Me a Re-Constructionist? Hardly…

Reconstruction. Every time I hear this term, I think of the period immediately following the American Civil War, particularly in the southern United States. But that is not what the term typically means in Pagan circles. to borrow from Wikipedia’s page on Polytheistic reconstruction:

Reconstructionism attempts to re-establish historical polytheistic religions in the modern world, in contrast with neopagan syncretic movements like Wicca, and “channeled” movements like Germanic mysticism or Theosophy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytheistic_reconstructionism

Fairly textbook oriented perspective, but useful in understanding the primary aspects of reconstruction perspectives within the Pagan community. Attempting to showcase the perspective I am chasing, a simpler aspect would come from elsewhere in the same article.

While the emphasis on historical accuracy may imply historical reenactment, the desire for continuity in ritual traditions (orthopraxy) is a common characteristic of religion in general, as seen in Anglican ritualism, or in much Christian liturgy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytheistic_reconstructionism

Essentially, and I am painting with an overly broad brush here, its a perspective of doing rituals and practicing aspects of a belief system exactly (or as close as possible) to the manner in which the ancestors of that system did back in time. There is a strict adherence to a set of ritual framework, spell-work, and how to honor the Gods, the Ancestors, and the Spirits. This can even include things all the way down to manners of personal dress and how such clothing is made.

Now, please do not take me the wrong way. I am not denigrating or trying to shit all over the way folks that practice this methodology to their Spiritual Path. On the contrary, I applaud them for finding this method as working directly (and correctly) for them. This approach; however, does not work for me. In fact, it would be most appropriate to say that I am nowhere in the same ballpark with any reconstruction movement.

in fact, my own approach to my Spiritual Path might be more detailed through a Journey song. Yes, Journey – the band.

She said
Any way you want it
That’s the way you need it
Any way you want it

Journey, “Any Way You Want It”

Most of my ritual work has a framework associated with it – that which I learned through my studies with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. However, over time, I have many alterations that I have added (and removed) to that framework until I have a few variations that I can manage that are within my own personal comfort zone. And since I am a congregation of one (me), it makes it a lot easier to alter things on the fly if need be.

Now orthodoxy would have me called out as a blasphemer, since I am altering what would be considered as “set in stone”. Orthopraxy; however, would note that what I am doing is “ok” for me, so long as I do not force my own changes onto others. In other words, when gathered with a group of fellow OBOD members, following the typical ritual framework would be considered as better conduct since we all have studied and trained within that aspect. No one would be caught off guard with the various alterations I have created for myself.

My own alterations to the framework are why I would never consider myself a part of a reconstruction movement. I am not trying to recreate something old; just utilize something that I am more comfortable with. And even if I did utilize a part of a framework that is the same or similar to what was done in “ancient” times…my use of that is not associated with a desire to do things “as they have been done before”. Rather, as I have noted a few times now – I am trying to do something that “works for me,” nothing more.

To be brutally honest, I am not worried about how things were done in the “ancient” times. Nor am I worried about how things were done last weekend. I want to focus on what feels “right” and “comfortable” with this moment in the ritual. Simple as that. That perspective will likely draw the ire of reconstructionists and Pagans of an orthodox frame of mind, but this will have little effect on me. I am not encouraging a single individual to do what I do. If someone decides to adopt the same mindset – working on their own Path through ritual practice that they know and understand – that is for them to decide. So please, do not take me the wrong way and say that I hate reconstructionist and orthodox methodologies within Paganism. Rather, my perspective is that those perspectives do not work for me.

My friend John Beckett likes to remark about the Big Tent of Paganism. My perspective is a little different – more like a Pagan campground. However, whatever the symbolism that gets utilized, there’s room in Paganism for a lot of beliefs – even those diametrically opposed to one another in belief, methodology, and/or perspective. And that wide diversity is a strength, in my opinion. If you explore throughout – either walking through the Big Tent of Paganism or going from fire to fire in the Pagan Campground, you will learn many approaches to personal Spirituality. And the more approaches you can understand, the wider your vision can become. You do not need to utilize the approaches – merely understand. In my opinion, the wider your experience, the wider your eyes will be. The wider your eyes will be, the more you can see. The more you can see, the more you can choose to experience. Just a thought….

Make it Run Now, Fix It Later — The Dying Art of Troubleshooting

In this age of politics, I always get asked how I manage to keep from losing my mind over the everyday {IMPACT!] headlines. After all, news coverage is something that is so in the face of everyone out there. Nine Hells, even my iPhone has a section dedicated to the news, which I would remove, if Apple would let me. Admittedly, wall-to-wall news is, in my not-so-humble estimation, annoying at its best. I tend to view the avoidance of the stuff as a matter of putting the media in its place, and spending time doing other things – like reading a book or watching a movie.

Interestingly enough, news avoidance lead me to a movie that is currently playing on F/X these days – “The Martian” starring Matt Damon. I have heard the book is even more intriguing and involving than the movie, which is a good thing – I could use the distraction. The storyline; however, has a particular point I wanted to focus on. At the end of the movie, Damon’s character – astronaut Mark Watney – is standing in the middle of a classroom of students in an introductory program for future astronauts. He makes the point that things will go sideways in their careers in space, and that they will need to be ready to accept those challenges in order to survive.

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. –Mark Watney

This one quote really sticks with me from the film – though there are others that I love just as much, such as “… in the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option: I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” However, this one quote from the end of the movie highlights something I have noticed over time is becoming a lost art – troubleshooting.

Troubleshooting is More Than a Mundane Thing

I will admit, most of my training in the art of troubleshooting came from my time in the United States military – specifically from a time where I was attached to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) unit. Pure NATO units, which I was in, are those that have multi-national components to it. Funding and equipment for these units is usually the very last part of what any country puts forth in their budgets. The equipment utilized is typically old, and held together with spit, gum and bailing wire – and that’s if the unit is lucky in what they have been provisioned. Learning what equipment is capable of, not designed for, is paramount to being able to get the mission completed. You have to understand how something works, what it can potentially be capable of, and be willing to try any solution – no matter how crazy it sounds. The same can hold true for your Pagan or magickal life.

Think back just a bit in time. Look to where a ritual didn’t seem to work because only five people showed up, instead of the twelve you were expecting. You make do by having people double up in roles. The individual responsible for calling the elements in the East also does so for the South. Whoever has the West, also takes the North. Whoever is leading the ritual handles the calling of the element of Spirit, as well as the God and Goddess. And that’s if you have those elements in your ritual. But you get the picture, you double-up on tasks to get the job done. Its not ideal, but if the participants can take the concept of multi-role situations seriously…you can make it work.

What about spellwork? Can’t find that piece of weapons-grade plutonium for that curse you are going to work against the President and his allies? Well, you find something else to make it work. Maybe a simple lava lamp can stand in for that plutonium. Right? It might not have the same physical qualities, but you can make it work with the glowing aspect. And just think, you won’t need the heavy shielding and clothing to avoid those nasty burns. Improvisation can always be helpful. But to get there, you have to do some troubleshooting. You have to find something that will be able to mimic what you are trying to do. The lava lamp was fairly inexpensive at a little more than fifteen dollars at Wal-mart (after taxes). Plus, you didn’t have to run around bribing Libyan terrorists with Michael J. Fox.

The Art of Sciencing That Shit

So, let’s bring things back from me pumping in bad puns and terrible imagery into the mix. Troubleshooting is exactly what my second quote stated – its sciencing the shit out of the issue to try and find a solution that may seemingly not provide the most efficient results. Remember, you are looking for results. I have taken a coffee pot apart in order to utilize a circuit board contained within it to keep a piece of cryptographic equipment running. Granted, the machine transmitted at an error rate above seventy percent because of the insufficient voltage that the circuit board could handle, but the solution allowed a critical transmission to go out. Never really thought I could make Mr. Coffee become Mr. Secure-Transmission-Device, but it was the fact that circuit boards were nearly identical in usage – just not in voltage – that allowed for the Frankenstein method to be used. The same can hold true for your spell-work, for your rituals, for your group work…its not about falling apart when stuff doesn’t go your way. Its about finding solutions…even at the last minute. And when that solution is found, be aware that more issues may arise because of what you did to manage that solution. A domino effect of issues….just solve each problem as they arise.

Stay Calm…After the Meltdown

Trust me, when the shit hits the fan, you will wring your hands and scream at the skies. You will curse the Gods for giving you miserable luck. You will try and put your hand through the wall. You might even succeed. Go ahead and have that meltdown. And when you’re done, pull it all together and see the problem as it is. Work THAT problem. Don’t anticipate and try to work the next problem. One thing at a time. Solve the problem. Analyze and work the next problem. Keep doing it. Remember, sometimes the things you need to solve the problem may not be readily at hand. Be prepared to figure out what needs to be done, what materials can be utilized as a stand-in – and TRY.

The old P-40 can opener. I cannot tell you how many things I have used this for that did not involve opening a can.

Troubleshooting is an art-form. In the business environment, you have to comprehend processes that you don’t know or even understand. Some processes, you may not even have a right to know about. Those you have to trust that the problem isn’t there and try to solve around those. If you eliminate everything on either side – those processes you are locked out of will need to be investigated – probably by someone other than you. Its not about making things perfect. Its about finding the problem, working the problem, and developing a temporary solution, so that others can figure out a more permanent solution. Its not about being the “fix-it” person. Troubleshooting is about getting things back to running order so that everything moves forward.

Troubleshooting in a Throw-Away World

Around 2006, one of the trends in Information Technology was not to repair equipment in place, but to replace it. This perspective makes sense, particularly in a business environment where every second of down-time causes a loss of unimaginable proportion of dollars. Its just easier to buy the same equipment, configure it, and put it in place of the damaged stuff. Then the damage stuff is jettisoned like yesterday’s coffee grounds, while a new replacement is purchased to await the next time the equipment goes into failure. This is the type of society that we have become accustomed to. Our smart phones get older? We trade them in for newer models with better capabilities – and those capabilities will be obsolete and old in a matter of weeks after we acquire this new phone. Troubleshooting has been set back to a position of “make due” until new technology can be obtained. Sad, but very true. I am not sure where this leaves the value of a troubleshooter in today’s overly technologized, easily-replaceable society.

But, I am proud of what I have done in my career as a troubleshooter. Keeping computer systems running with re-wiring solutions for network capabilities that are a nightmare straight from the kitchens of Spaghetti Warehouse, putting cryptography equipment back online using Techniques that seem impossible (Mr. Coffee) or are blatantly illegal (You want it running Commander? Well, its running – just don’t ask how). The job of a troubleshooter is to find the problem, find the temporary solution, implement that temporary solution, and report the break up the chain of command. I’ll get it running right now…I’ll fix it correctly, later.

Review: The Journey Into Spirit

I have met Kristoffer Hughes numerous times over the past few years, mostly at Pagan conferences and gatherings. Kristoffer has always been full of life, humorous, playful, and a pure joy to be around. I had a vague idea of Kristoffer’s professional occupation, but never really equated that too much with the individual I have come to know. This book of his, showed me a completely different side of Kristoffer’s life, but not a different side of Kristoffer. I’ll explain a little more in a bit. In the meantime, I’ll try not to give away too much of what is written within those pages. In my opinion, it is best experienced by the reader…not through the reviewer.

I understand quite a bit of the cycle of life and death, my father was a hospital Pathologist. While his profession was more geared towards the study of diseases, the death of individuals from those diseases was a part of that life. I never got to be in on an autopsy, ethically that would just not be appropriate – particularly for a child of sixteen or younger (the time frame that I was exposed to my father’s profession). However, I did get to see some of the aftermath of such expositions in the skin and cell samples that were prepared for study. However, I never really placed the idea of the care of the body after death into my perceptual vision.

This book takes a rather candid, and surprisingly intimate, look at the pattern of what happens after death. And oddly enough, I completely understand quite a bit of the perspective that is laid forth in what Kristoffer has written. One of the major thematic points made is how death is set off to the side – not openly viewed in our modern society. For someone looking to find an inviting perspective on the process of dying, death, and burial – Kristoffer has indeed presented a very approachable perspective.

Perhaps the most shocking perspective for me was the extremely personal perspective that Kristoffer provides – particularly in the beginning of the book. More than once, I found myself empathizing greatly with what was written. Thinking back on what I have come to know about Kristoffer in the limited times we have met and engaged one another, I realize that this is not really all that surprising. Kristoffer has always been a warm, engaging individual who has a genuine smile, and a fantastic bear-hug for everyone. The off-kilter banter in conversation and in lecture shows affection for every single individual within earshot. Its not all that surprising, in retrospect, to find that same warmth and empathy within the written stories showcased in this book.

Do I recommend this book? Most definitely. Whether you are looking for something with depth and introspection towards the aspect of death, or are seeking something that might help you to understand the passing of a loved one — The Journey Into Spirit can provide that, in my opinion. Should you ever get a chance to meet the writer – take the opportunity and do so. You will find someone with a personality as large as the universe, and a heart four times that size.

You can find this book at Llewellyn or on Amazon….and perhaps even your local bookstore.

Leadership: My Own Perceptions

But you seem to have it all so together! Why wouldn’t you want to be a more in the open Pagan figure?

There are a lot of people that are puzzled over the way I deal with the concept of being a “leader.” Why would I not want to step out into the wider Pagan community and become a more public leader? Well, there are a lot of factors to the perspective I hold, some of which are leftovers from my time in the Air Force, and some that I have figured out for myself. So, perhaps Its time to explore some of this a bit more.

Military Influence Towards Leadership

I admit, most of my concepts towards being a leader come directly from my time in the Air Force. Before I was considered to be “inappropriate” by a charismatic Christian leadership, I was sent to the Airman Leadership Course and the Non-Commissioned Officers Preparatory School to learn about the concepts and ideas of leadership. I was never greater than an average student in either, but the ideas I learned there have stuck with me throughout my life.

A leader never seeks the spotlight for themselves. The spotlight is always reserved for this that one works with. This is probably the greatest concept that drives my life – both in the Pagan community and in my professional life. If I task that I worked on gets showcased as being “awesome work”, my first response is to pull everyone else into the spotlight with me that helped out. No matter how small their role was. If there is going to be praise handed out, its going to be handed out everywhere.

Another concept that drives my life is dealing with scolding or criticism. One-on-one, its given privately not publicly. Furthermore, as a leader, if there is public criticism to be had, the leader takes the public blame, and then tries to find how the issue happened privately. It gets fixed privately and the blame stays internal to the group. If the issue is severe enough, the leader administers the punishment and does so privately away from the rest of the group and the public.

From what I was taught, leadership is done more behind closed doors than out in the public eye. This is why I do not seek a public standing of being a “leader”. A public standing of a leader is, from my perspective, someone who makes wide arching proclamations and expects others to do the necessary work. Public leadership is not where I prefer to be. I want to be where the work gets done, not where the speeches get made.

Personal Perspective of Leadership

Like I stated earlier, most of my perspective of leadership comes from what I have learned and understood in my military training. As a conceptual thought, this works. But when the rubber meets the road (so to speak), leadership is about much more than concepts of how to praise publicly and scold privately. Leadership is about rolling up your sleeves and doing. For me, groups are not particularly conducive to this concept, particularly with the work I get tasked to do.

I work with two First Nations’ Trickster Gods – Coyote and Crow. I also work with a Germanic Goddess, Abonoba, though that relationship is still be fine-tuned. Most of my devotional work is done through and for Them. So my usual work does not involve groups or even other people. So there is not always a perspective of being a leader there. There is; however, a perception of leadership that comes through. When others see or hear of what work I am doing, I can become an example to them of what can and cannot be done when working with my Gods. Its not a true template, because everyone’s relationship with their own Gods will be different. But the perspective of work can be an example of what can be done – as a start in their own relationships. So I have that influence of leadership there…even if its seemingly only a short glance through a heavily wooded forest.

I have always felt that the best bits of leadership that I can provide are through this blog – writing about my own experiences, my own successes and failures. Not to show where not to walk or what not to do – but to show how perseverance and patience help make one a better Pagan, Polytheist, Druid, Wiccan or what have you. Because the failures are just as necessary to be your best as the successes are.

Do I want the fame and notoriety that goes with being a public Pagan that talks about these experiences, successful or not? Not really. Its nice to be recognized over what I do and say, but I am no more sage and wise than anyone else on these Paths. The difference between myself and someone brand new to their concept of Paganism is merely that I have been at this since 1986. In my own mind, so what? All it means is that I have been at this for a long time. I envy the new Seeker on the Path….all the experiences that they have ahead of themselves – all the exploration – all the newness of what they find. I would never take that feeling of newness away from them by coloring it with my own tired, old experiences.

Being a leader isn’t about hawking my books (which I’ve not written) or my blog, which can show you where I have made the mistakes. Being a leader is about keeping my mouth shut, stepping back, and letting the new Pagans experience all this for themselves for the first time. And then being there to help them explain some of the more mind-blowing experiences to their over-loaded minds.

Perhaps, my perception of leadership is far different from your own. I can grok that very easily. Everyone experiences the same phenomenon differently. My perception does not have to be yours. But it most certainly, is mine.

Thoughts on a Rainy Friday Morning

Welcome to the day after Thursday. Not a huge fan of Thanksgiving, so I tend to treat it like another day of the week – which it is. I really was not sure what I was going to write about for the blog yesterday, so I figured I would do the same thing as most people – and take the day off. of course, that leaves today…so let’s see where me, Shaw Blades on the Bluetooth speaker, and a cup of coffee might decide to go….

First Thoughts

I have done a lot to let folks know – particularly on Facebook where I am more active – that politics is just not a daily chore that I care to involve myself in. Occasionally, I will peruse the headlines to keep myself aware of what is going on, and even more rare is the time that I will click on a headline to read the story in more depth. But at this point, I pay as little attention to American politics as I possibly can. Most of that comes from feelings of disgust over the way these so-called politicians continue to take personal issues out into the open, trying to paint other politicians as “unwholesome” or “deviant” compared to themselves. I also dislike the way such issues take over the headlines and discussion rather than points on policies, government programs, and other aspects that would be more relate-able to what these folks are being elected for. Granted, there is no chance in the Nine Hells that I would ever cast a vote for President Trump, not because of what he represents on a social level, but because of his inept manner of discharging the duties of the Presidency.

So, there is a whole slew of candidates from other areas that are also vying for the position…would I cast a vote for any of them? Possibly. But only if they can showcase an ability to discharge the duties of the Presidency in a manner that is consistent with what I would expect. At this particular moment, I am more than willing to cast an empty ballot for the Presidency come election time, as is my right as a voter. I know that might piss some folks off, but honestly, my vote is my right. I’ll cast it in whatever manner I feel is appropriate. I am not the type of individual to cave from peer pressure.

Second Thoughts

About a month and a half back, I had one of the readers ask me to provide an opinion on what I thought were the best Pagan musicians out there. Well, my opinion doesn’t mean much. I’m just one person. And if you are basing what you hear as “good” on what I think is good…you might be disappointed. Like I said, I’m not one to bend to peer pressure, and that even falls in the realm of music. I have my favorites…Omnia, Wendy Rule, Emerald Rose, Faun and a few others. I could provide a list…but what for? Each of them are wonderful, as are the ones that I don’t list, and those that I have never heard. Music is, in my opinion, something to be enjoyed by the listener…not some competition. So I’ll beg out of that with what I’ve written. Likewise, I would extend this to writers as well. #JustSayin’

Third Thoughts

So, its Thanksgiving. A period of time that we have collective set off on the calendar to be grateful for the things we have in our lives. And then spend the following Friday (today) shoving each other aside at store sales to get the best deal. Yep, I was grateful for you yesterday, but if you touch that last PS4 controller that is on sale, I’ll break your Gods-damned jaw. Nice.

This is typically the time frame of the year that I bow out of being in public that often. People spend more time trying to find the deals that will allow them to show others that they cared enough about them to do bodily harm to others. Its not that I have issues with heavy consumerism (I do, but not to the level or detail that others that I know tend to). I just like my health where it is (or better). I don’t want to wind up in a hospital. Been there enough already, thank you very much.

Sarcastic commentary aside, I wonder if some folks have put some thought into how they show people that they care about them. Sure, the newest PS4 controller is an awesome thing, but so is a nice book on a topic that the individual might appreciate. And it costs a lot less, that’s for sure. But cost aside, I’d rather fed your mind than help your thumbs wind up in traction or develop carpal tunnel syndrome. #JustSayin’….

Final Thoughts

This is a time of the season to cook large meals, and feed the family. What about the military veteran widower down the road? You know, the guy that never has any visitors over the course of the year. Or any of your neighbors, whether they look like they get company or not. Want to make an impression with those folks? Get them a holiday card, make a batch of home-made cookies, and hand-deliver these to their door. Show them that you actually care – even if all they do is yell at your kids to get off their lawn. Perhaps The Beatles said it best – All You Need is Love. If we all practiced it more often and far more heart-felt, wouldn’t the world be a lot better place than it is?

Take those cookies and the holiday card over to the neighbors. Even that dude that keeps his “Trump for President” sign in his yard all year round. A little kindness and sharing might go a lot further than constantly showing your potential vote to the world, don’t you think? I do.

Shade-tree Pagan

“You’re quite the odd individual.”

“You certainly do look for solutions outside of the box.”

“The way you think is certainly at odds with the way most people around here think.”

I have heard all of these within my professional work career. I have also heard these, to some extent, applied to me within the wider Pagan community. When I was younger, I took these as a measure of offense since the underlying hint was that I wasn’t “normal” when compared to others. Now that I am far older, I took these statements as a measure of pride, knowing that I can see issues from a far different vantage point and understand a potential solution that very few could see. And while I carry that as a badge of pride, understanding that being able to see everything from odd vantage points allows one to see how things actually work – it can be problematic as well.

Troubleshooting is a lost art. Very few people care how something works. We live in a society that throws away that which does not work, in favor of something fresh off the assembly line. Material things only hold value for us as long as they work. Once that value is lost, we throw it away. This is in evidence in the throw-away aspect of the fast-food industry. We purchase our food and drink which come in one-use wrappers or one-use cups. When done, we throw these away, adding to the waste that we generate as a society. But that mentality goes so much deeper than just fast-food containers.

When our computer systems stop working, the tendency is not to get the machines repaired. Rather, as loyal consumers, we purchase new computers to replace the ones we have. We do this for our smart phones, our automobiles, and several other large-dollar packages that we own. If you watch enough of the car repair shows on television – I do – you will see many episodes where shade-tree mechanics find ways to repair or refurbish vehicles that others have given up on. These vehicles are then sold to interested buyers, and these continue on for many years to come with their new owners.

As I said, troubleshooting is a lost art. When the repair is easiest to throw something away and replace it with something new, those who fix things tend to not see nearly as much business. And the same can be true within our own areas of Spirituality. Many Pagans came to what they know now from the Christian faiths. For many of these Spirituality refugees, the aspect of the Christian faith that they came from just did not work for them, and the sought something new. I know because I am one of those individuals.

Now, I knew that Christianity was not a faith that I could troubleshoot for myself and fix it. I could have done that, but I would still have the clash between the aspects of Christian faith and my belief that all the Gods and Goddesses are real, unique Beings. So, the reality was that it was better for me to move over to the Pagan faiths, and see where I actually fit in. Which I didn’t.

The various Wiccan groups that I encountered were just as rigid in their pattern of belief as the Roman Catholic church I had left behind. They were also as fervent in their belief that theirs was the only correct manner in which to practice a Pagan faith as some of the Baptists groups I encountered in the Christian faith. When I started looking into the broader aspects of belief – earth-centered philosophies, and hard Polytheism, I discovered that there were plenty of shade-tree Pagans out there, just as there had been shade-tree Christians.

Now, I am borrowing from an aspect of automotive repair lore when I use the term “shade-tree”. Wikipedia defines a shade-tree mechanic as:

A shade-tree mechanic is a person who performs automotive repairs with minimal equipment and supplies in an irregular setting, often a residential garage or driveway… A shade-tree mechanic may identify as a retired or off-duty mechanic, a paraprofessional with limited or specialized skills, a self-employed individual, or a handy-person who enjoys working on automobiles in their spare time. Services performed by a shade-tree mechanic may include basic maintenance, Do-It-Yourself upgrades, and other repairs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadetree_mechanic

So, I would suppose a similar aspect can be utilized towards those Pagans who spend their time working on their beliefs with minimal or no supervision of a group. Essentially, what we tend to term as “solitaires” or “solo” Pagan (don’t tell me that this doesn’t fire off echoes of Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” in your mind – it certainly does for me). Its interesting that as I think of this mindset, I can see it as a Pagan who has parked their beliefs under a shady tree, lifted the hood, and has begun to tinker with things to make it run better, smoother for what they are wanting. In essence, they are troubleshooting to either add to or remove from a belief that they have grafted on to their own understanding of the world around them. I know that I did this with Animism after I had finished reading Emma restall Orr’s book “The Wakeful World.” And I continue to do that with videos I watch, lectures I attended, and other books that I read. Like a shade-tree mechanic, I am always fine-tuning the engine of my Spirituality.

I know there are folks who do not like seeing this type of work on Spirituality done. That personal Spiritual work, for them, is better done in a group where an individual with experience is always available. To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that. Even in the realm of shade-tree mechanics, engine problems that are beyond the scope and capable of the lone mechanic can arise. That’s when auto dealerships may need to be consulted for specialized work.

Now, you might not like the metaphor I have chosen here. I completely grok that. Its one that works very well for my own mindset. Do I see myself as a shade-tree mechanic? Certainly. But only for my own Spirituality. In my professional career, troubleshooting is a hall-mark of what I do. The United States Air Force taught me techniques to try and resolve issues – one step at a time. I have tried my best to apply that to my own Spirituality, something that changes and grows with each passing day. So trying to keep it fine-tuned can truly be an art form. At least I think so.

Looking at Teamwork in an Individualized Spirituality

Back in 1986, I joined the United State Air Force. I was two years out of high school, doing badly in college classes, and nearly no prospects for jobs. At the instance of my father, a retired Non-Commissioned Officer and thirty-plus year veteran of the United States Air Force – I enlisted in the Air Force myself. The promise was that I provided four years of my life to the service of the United States in exchange for learning a trade – and growing up. I did just that though – I did grow up a bit more, learning more about being responsible for my own actions. I also learned a lot of other valuable lessons, such as the core basis of being a leader. But the most important thing I learned is still something I adhere tightly to even today – teamwork.

Many folks here the word teamwork, and they think of folks pulling something with a rope – everyone using their combined strength to accomplish something that any one individual could not do on their own. Certainly, an aspect of teamwork is at play there, but teamwork goes much deeper than this. And all of this can even fit into a very individualistic perspective of Spirituality that Paganism tends to gravitate towards.

Teamwork is Knowing and Doing Your Part

In order to understand your best positioning in a team, you need to not only know your strength and weaknesses, but comprehend what that means. Getting to that level of comprehension means that you know where you can fill in at other positions or duties without completely weakening the ability of the team to accomplish the task. Furthermore, it means that you may only understand your task, and not see the entire Big Picture. Most folks working with their Gods can understand this to some degree. You do what is asked of you to the best of your abilities, even when you’re unsure of what the final aspect will be.

If you really want to see teamwork, attend a large Pagan Gathering and look for the people in the background.

As a for instance, when I was in the Air Force I worked on cryptological equipment which scrambled and unscrambled text messages so that only specified readers at the distant end of the message could read what was sent. My job was to make sure the equipment was in working order when placed on KC-135 and B-52 aircraft. That cryptographic communication equipment was what I was tasked with – my responsibility. I was trained how to work with, repair, remove and install the equipment, as necessary. I had no idea how to fly the aircraft, how to work on its avionics equipment or how to repair its engines. Others were tasked with those responsibilities. My part of the Big Picture was the communications that occurred between the aircraft and ground controllers. I did not have the Big Picture, only what I was tasked with. Others were tasked with other responsibilities. The crew of the aircraft were tasked with a role that none of us knew. So long as we all worked together, the aircraft and its crew were capable of carrying out their mission. That working together – that teamwork – was what allowed the mission to succeed.

Now, to bring another example into focus – Pantheacon. There are lots of moving parts to the conference – including many that I could only guess at (likely guess badly). The call for submissions goes out, presenters submit their suggestions, and a panel of folks accept or reject the submissions. The accepted submissions are then slotted into rooms throughout the hotel that are set aside for these presentations. People coming into the convention will find a table where folks are available to get the name tags to the right people, along with a conference book – which had another team of people working with that. All of that has hundreds of moving parts, lots of involved people – and none of that even approaches the people manning information tables, working hospitality suites or insuring that presentations have the proper equipment in place or that the equipment is working. But there is a large amount of teamwork that is involved, people working together towards a common goal — a convention that goes off as smoothly as possible, even knowing that hiccups and issues will arise.

Maybe a more insular example will help bring home the point. I’m a fairly open and public Pagan. I have a handful of folks that will ask questions from time to time. For instance, I have been asked i I could marry someone or if I could do a public rite for a gathering. Both are functions that I would be singularly terrible at. First, I am not ordained or licensed to marry anyone anywhere. I could perform a hand fasting rite, I suppose – but the its legality as a marriage ceremony would certainly be null and void. I just do not have the credentials to do something like that. Nor the experience, for that fact. But in a pinch, I suppose I could do it. As for a public ritual, I have never written one, much less performed one, other than as a participatory guest. So where would the teamwork aspect come from? Well, I know people who can do one or the other – even both. And not all of them are in Texas or the United States. I would be happy to point people in their direction. I know my limitations, accept that, and still try to find ways to gather potential acceptable solutions.

Believe it or not, I have heard from a lot of folks that Pagans are not good team players. I know that statement is true, but only to a point. Because I do know quite a few Pagans that are team players. Yes, Paganism is fairly individualistic in its overall approach to personal Spirituality. Does that mean there is not a spirit of teamwork that is readily available and approachable? Hardly. Rarely have I seen a group of Pagans not willing to roll up their sleeves and do hard work in order to achieve a goal or task. I would posit that Pagans are always ready to be team players, even if the concept of teamwork has to be tweaked ever so slightly. Just my personal take….