Thinking About: The Power of Words (Magick)

Its Thursday….which is exactly a week since the last blog post. I went down to Houston to see Shadow this past weekend, so that left the weekend posts out of the loop. Then when Tuesday rolled around, I thought it was Monday…until about 11pm that night. So that’s how Tuesday fell out. My fault. But then I don’t have an army of these posts floating around either. I write these off the top of my head – on the days that I post them. Today is no exception to that. As usual, I am stuck for a topic at the moment…and no, I have no desire to write about politics or what’s in the news. Just really don’t want to rehash what’s already out there….

A long while back on the blog – somewhere, I’m just too lazy to go look it up – I had a bit of a discussion on magickal names. The idea seems to come from picking a new name when you start your Path down whatever Tradition you are in – you take a new name to signify the change you are going through in your life. When I first started on my original steps in Wicca, I did this as well. I didn’t really stray too far from who I am – I went with my pen-name, Robin Birchleaf. This was the name I’ve used in writing my poetry…at the time, it was on various dial-up Bulletin Boards. Nowadays, my poetry tends to be kept private or when I do post it publicly, I do so here on this blog. But the name seemed to suit me. Robyn came from the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Robyn Goodfellow, a play that has filtered throughout my life in various manners. Birch is one of the younger trees in the Beth-Luis-Nion alphabet (I think that’s right) and signified my start on this new Path. The leaf? Well, I am just one individual of a greater whole…the leaf seemed appropriate.

These days, I go by my nearly life-long nickname – TommyElf. This is another name that originated from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. Growing up, my hair was nearly white in color, which is hard to believe given my dirty, dish-water blonde hair of these days. The high school students at the local Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) were putting on the play, and were auditioning parts. I happened to be playing soccer nearby. The teacher leading the production saw me, and asked me to come in and read a few lines…as King Oberon. She liked me in the part so much, she asked where I lived, and walked me back to my home there in military housing – so she could ask my parents if it was alright for me to play the role. To shorten this down a bit…my parents said yes, and I was in the week-long run of the play. After the play’s run was over, I would run into the same high school students from the play – and the referred to me as “King Elf” for a short while, a nod to my role as Oberon. Shortly after, they started referring to me as “Tommy the Elf” which got shortened to “Tommy Elf”. In later years, I’ve just scrunched it all into a single word “TommyElf” and I have become far better known by this than even my legal name.

This is the lesson in the power of names – magickal or not. My pseudo-name Robyn Birchleaf lends power and meaning to the first steps of Pagan Path. I use it sparingly now, still primarily with my poetry writing. My childhood nickname, on the other hand, has taken a life of its own – with whatever power and meaning it lends to the person who uses it. For some folks it can be a happy thing. For others, it can have a meaning like “Oh shit, here comes THAT dude.”

But that gets me to thinking a bit more about the power and meaning we place behind all kinds of words. I have often wondered if writing can be considered as some kind of spell or magickal working? Just putting thoughts to the reality of existence – and yes, there is POWER in doing just that. Just as there is POWER in the way a good speaker tells a story with intricate details and flowery wording – weaving that picture in the minds of those listening. Writers do the same thing…even in something as simple and mundane as blog posts. A well written piece (that typically doesn’t come from this corner folks) can excite you, outrage you, make you fall in love, or feel completely at peace with everything around you. Or maybe even all at once. What we read, what we speak – how we speak it, how we write it – that’s all got power within it. That’s all pure magick.

Yeah. Magick. As in spells and all that stuff that I avoid like the plague. And yet here I am, doing just that in the writing word – or when I ran the podcast, in what I talked about. Others can do all the wand waving and the incantations at the precise moment that the moon reaches apogee and the ginger-ale in the cauldron boils….or whatever — I’ll stick to honing my magick through writing. And occasionally speaking when invited to do so. (Just remember, I write and say “fuck” a lot – I’m generally NSFW, unless told to bring it down a notch or twelve)

So….make your magick your way. If writing or speaking just ain’t your thing….cool. Whatever is your way, do it. But for me, I am just starting to realize where my magick really is. And now I have to sharpen it and make it better. I am trying. And I haven’t even started addressing the ideas of music or even computer coding as magick.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Aptitude Testing and Personal Spirituality & Growth

What do you want to do with your life? Here, take this block of aptitude tests, so we can figure out what career path will work best for you…

I remember these kinds of questions quite well. The first one, I heard from my parents, my high school teachers, and my high school guidance counselor – ALL the time. And I honestly had no real clue. I was enthralled with the Apple //+ computers that were in a basement classroom at my high school, and completely in love with my Commodore 64 computer, but I was never really sure you could make a living with these things. The second, the statement about aptitude tests, was what the United States Air Force made me do when I had initially enlisted. I had seven months from the time I enlisted to my initial reporting date to Basic Training. In the time between, I went in for an all-day physical, where they tested my reflexes, my hearing, my sight, my teeth, my heart rate, and made me pee into a bottle for drug testing (good luck finding anything aside from alcohol). The next week, they sent me in for a series of aptitude tests called ASVAB (otherwise known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The four areas tested are Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Mathematics Knowledge. These are all combined into a singular score which is then utilized as an AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) which determines if you’re qualified to enlist in the US military service. That was all back in 1984, when I took the test….I know its still given, but I am not sure of how it used now. Back then, your scores helped determine what specialty job you were assigned to. Me…even with my lower mathematical scores (I only went as high as Algebra II in high school), I was placed in command-and-control systems, which included the wild world of cryptography. My ease of use and understanding of computer equipment, apparently made me ideal for this career field, and off the Air Force trundled me in that direction.

I have a lot to thank the Air Force for in that regard. They taught me a trade skill. They taught me responsibility and leadership. They also showed me that my absolute adoration of the Apple //+ and the Commodore 64 from my latter high school days, could become an occupational skill set. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been noted as an individual with mechanical aptitude. Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by people who can work on engines of all sorts…but that’s just not me. No, computers were the big dream, I just had no idea how that dream could be formed and shaped – at least not until I earned my Bachelor’s degree in 2003.

All of that got me into thinking….which is why this has wound up here in a “Thinking About” segment on the blog. I wonder….how did I get to this point in my Spiritual Path? What was the “big, formless dream” that I had in regards to my personal Spirituality that led me down to here?

Fortunately, there’s no ASVAB testing to determine your faith. I mean, we had those idiotic vocational tests in high school that would attempt to determine if you were a writer or something else that it tried to determine. Mine came back with “Philosopher” – no, seriously. I figured I could get a better descriptive out of a box of Cracker Jacks. But there’s nothing like that for testing your Spirituality. Big burly guy, who likes axes and swords? Well, you belong in the Heathen club. Petite young lady who has an affinity for the color black or purple? Off down the Witch Path with you. Like wearing white and being in the forest? Welcome to Druidry! Yeah, thank the Gods that there is no ASVAB for Spirituality.

I have talked about my perspective before…I was drawn to Polytheism earlier on, thanks to my constant reading about the Greek and Roman Gods out of the encyclopedia sets in the library. But how I showed up with Druidry, was a much longer road. In the very beginning, for me, there was Wicca. And it just didn’t work. I went overseas to a new military duty station and left Wicca behind for a bit. There, I met Pagans of very different stripes, including a couple of Ceremonial Magicians. I figured out fairly fast that I wasn’t interested in that direction either. When I came back to the United States, I found a different Wiccan tradition, and give it a second try…with the same results. So I started hunting for something that might fit better – with the knowledge that I might not fit anything. I ran across Druidry through Ross Nichols’ work, “The Book of Druidry”. After reading it, I could not see how Druidry could fit into what I was trying to do…thinking that the way Druidry was described was a hard, fast set of rules. So I kept looking. Eventually, I came across Philip Shallcrass’ book, “Druidry: A Practical and Inspirational Guide” published through Piatkus Books. This made me reevaluate what I had read in Nichols’ book, and I started to realize that Druidry was a lot more than I had thought – and was far more pliable in relation to my own beliefs. This search through Druidry led me to a better understanding of how I could make Druidry my own through the OBOD teachings. And that’s the short version of how I got here.

Thinking through all of that, I wonder what would have happened way back in 1984, if I had take a Spirituality aptitude test to determine what Path I should follow. I had been through Catholic schools through the seven years of my secondary education. This included mandatory education in Catholic theology, an area I understood quite well despite my reluctance to adopt its teachings as Writ. When I started looking through other faiths, I settled on Southern Baptist for the year and a half prior to entering the United States military. This was mostly because most of the people I had as friends were Southern Baptist, and it was a way to somewhat identify with them. Again, I understand the perspective, just never really bought the idea that it was holy Writ. Where would I have wound up? Well, given the amount of programming and teaching that was poured into my head on a nearly daily basis at school…I’d probably have remained within the Catholic faith. What that would have done to me as a person, I am not even sure I want to contemplate.

Did I dream of being a Druid? Of being a Polytheist? No, I can’t really say that I did. At least not anymore than I did when I was trying to figure out kind of job a person could get for fiddling around on a computer, playing with native programming languages. Or that there was even some abstract concept such as a data-driven database that I could stuff information into.

Am I glad to be here? To be in Druidry? Of course I am. This is the best fit of anything that I have encountered for the way I view and deal with my own Spirituality. I am happy with where I am, with what I have become, and for the choices I have for what I can become. There was a lot of hardship and confusion along the way, but all of that helped me to determine ways of working through issues and problems. All of my life has been an informed process of getting to this point and will continue to do so going forward. Honestly, I would not have it any other way – because this is me. And I am happy with me. And its been a much more logical choice and solution than what I think may occurred – had there been an aptitude test for Spiritual back in my last year of high school.

–T /|\

View From Medicine Wheel

Teaching and Learning, My Way

For about the last six weeks, I have been peppered with questions asking if I was going to do what other Pagans have started to do – teaching online. I have tried to be light-hearted about the potential idea – but the true reality is that I am not the kind of teacher that folks would really get much out of way. My way of teaching follows the same perspective of how I learn – it’s about discussion and experience. Honestly, theory blows by itself because there is nothing tangible to hold on to until you try it out. That turns theory into experience and puts this right into my wheelhouse. Makes sense? No? Perhaps, I need to dig a little deeper into how I teach and how I learn…and why this way makes sense to me.

For a little more than three years, I taught Intro to Information Systems in a collegiate setting. The first semester I taught, I had four classes and stuck hard to the material. However, once I got the idea of what the author of the Gods-awful textbook that was assigned to the class was trying to convey – I started adding my own spin to things. I wanted to convey to the students how information systems affected their lives daily in a manner that they never really realized was taking place. I brought in examples of new computer technology, along with computer technology from back in my early hey-day in the 8-bit world. I wanted them to not only see the difference in the early technology versus the new, which afforded them a good, strong look at micronization, but I wanted them to physically hold and inspect the items for themselves. Being able to hold the technology and physically appreciate the differences is about experiencing what is there.

I also spiced up some of the lessons with stories of what I did in my days working in Information Technology Operations. As I told them in class, if there was a way to do it wrong – I’ll bet that I did it. For some of them, being able to find solutions to errors and mistakes – by making errors and mistakes – was a signal that absolute accuracy was not something that could be achieved. If you want an awesome example of that – go back a few years here in the blog and check out my horrid typing mistakes.

And all of that is how I learn best. Regurgitating information from a text or lesson plan teaches me nothing, except to memorize information for the short term. I cannot tell you how much I have learned over a high school diploma, Bachelor’s degree, and two Master’s degrees that I have forgotten shortly after I no longer had a need of that knowledge. I retain what I need to know and lose the stuff that has no real application to what I am trying to complete. I had a strong, wonderful education in Catholic history, theology, and teachings when I was in high school. I wasn’t even a Catholic and I understood things far better than most of my classmates. I graduated high school in 1984 – I can tell you right now, that my recall of that knowledge has been next-to-zero. I started on my Pagan Path in late 1986 and set aside everything I had learned about Catholicism – it just wasn’t important to me any longer…and remains in that category to this day.

I do a lot of code writing in my professional life. I have certain aspects of code memorized. Others, I don’t use as often, so I keep a lot of the code I have written over the years – so I can bring my mind back to it. I have programs that I have written in Pascal, C, C+, C++, SQL, and a few variants of BASIC. I am not a proficient programmer, since I do not understand a lot of the programming language’s syntax, but I understand the logical pattern of loops, structured programming blocks and modular programming. I don’t understand development concepts such as Agile, because I have no need for it. I know how to tackle a program’s basic constructs and move on from there.

How did I manage all of that? Trial and error – basic experience. People have often asked me why I don’t do magick workings or spell work. It’s simple. I see those as a nuclear option – essentially a last resort. I try to solve things with my hands, my brain and my sweat first. Nine-Hundred-and-ninety-nine times out of a thousand, one of those methods or a combination of some sort tends to achieve the results I want. Magick and spell-work I hold off for that one chance in a thousand….and then, I still must ask myself if I want to travel down that route. In other words, do I really need it.

I know the question…why not teach? Because my idea of teaching Druidry and Paganism is more about sitting with you around a late-night campfire and having a casual conversation. On what? You pick the topic. You pick the starting point. Over the course of the conversation, I can assure you that we will wander all over the place – and hit whatever topic you want. But here’s the real hitch to things: I don’t have any answers for you. You’ll find that those are inside of you and have been all the time – you just needed to talk it out with someone that you trust and understand, that would presumably me. Why, I am not sure…but hey, it’s a hypothetical situation. What does it cost? Maybe two or three beers. And a little time. And trusting enough to open yourself to a healthy conversation. To me, this is what teaching is about. Not pouring information INTO you, but helping you get OUT of you what’s already in there and that you instinctively know.

See, teaching online isn’t really the grandest perspective for me. Other folks are wanting to give you knowledge. I just want to talk with you. I cannot see charging you a single dime for something we can do for free on the front porch swing at your house. I’m not arrogant enough to think my ideas and perspective are any better than the folks down the road. The difference is simply that I am here, and you feel trusting enough to talk with me. I’m no guru. I’m no leader. I’m nobody special. I’ve just been on my Pagan Path long enough to keep the drama out of my life as much as I can, and to know when an experience is one I shouldn’t step into. That took time to learn. The only way you’re going to learn it, is to grab that hot pot handle and burn yourself. That’s how you’ll know.

–T /|\

That Path is for Your Steps Alone

“Why don’t you talk about ritual more often?”

“Why don’t you hold an online ritual or a talk, like everyone else is doing?”

“Could you please do an online ritual so others can see what you do?”

This pandemic has forced a lot of folks to create and work within online formats. I’m a little envious of those folks, because they have a better internet connection than I do. Currently, I am surviving by working from a Satellite Internet feed, which is slow as the Nine Hells. Streaming anything is just about impossible to achieve. This is the technological stumbling block I run into concerning either being in or even watching a Facebook Live event. Zoom video gatherings are also not in my capability to accomplish. Neither is creating videos and uploading them to Youtube. I just do not have the technology to do that right now.

The closest thing I have, is this blog. Well, that and my inane presence on Facebook. I’m sure I irritate more than one person with my silly antics on there. But then, I use Facebook (mostly) for fun and keeping in touch with some folks that I consider to be my family. Part of the way I approach my daily Paganism is to find something fun for the day. Its why I post a daily morning music video (for the most part daily), for the start of the day. For me, music is a great way to start any day. Currently, I am listening to Joey Taffola’s album “Infra Blue”. He’s a guitar shredder, and the album showcases his mastery of the guitar (Gods, I wish I had this kind of talent with the guitar). But music is always a part of my day. Thus, the reason I share musical selections in the morning with folks. I doubt that many people even click on the video link to listen to the song, but its just my morning offering to the world at large.

This blog is sort of the same thing. I share my thoughts on topics here, and hope that some kind of discussion (even if its just in your own head) gets started. I’m not here to tell people who they should approach and live their Paganism. That would be completely ridiculous of me, particularly since I believe everyone has their own unique approach to a topic. I have said it quite a few times – I’m not a leader. I am not here to elevate myself in any way, shape or form. I am not here to push a brand, or to have designs on being a Big-Name Pagan that gets invited to speak everywhere. I wouldn’t turn down an invite of any sort, but its not my goal on my Spiritual Path. My goal is simple. To just be me. Nothing more complicated than that.

Most of my ritual work is personal, individual stuff. In my thirty-plus years on this path, most of it has been spent doing stuff on my own. I do gather and celebrate with various groups when it comes to the turning of the Wheel. This year, celebrations that I normally attend were cancelled because of COVID-19 fears. I am thankful for that…not just for myself and my rotten immune system, but for all the people that would normally have come. Safety is always a paramount concept in my mind – thanks United States Air Force. As my ritual work is personal – and very off the cuff – I fear that it would never translate well, either in video or written form here on the blog. But I will say this…improvisation of ritual is a wonderful thing, but you need to master the basics of your chosen Path first. Those basics are the starting point for improvisation. Just like Joey Taffola learned the basics of playing the guitar, before he started improvising his own jams, which have turned into his really creative albums. Basics come first. That provides a cohesive starting point for your improvisation.

Picture by John Beckett, who takes amazing photos

Now, I have noted this before…I’m not a leader. But despite what I believe of myself, I cannot alter the way some people might look at me. Yes, I have thirty-plus years on the Pagan Path. Yes, I have wandered through Wicca, generic Paganism, and currently utilize Druidry and Polytheism as the primary backdrop to what I do and practice. However, none of that makes me some kind of amazing individual that other should follow in my footsteps. I can show you some of the land-mines I have encountered along the way. But a Spiritual Path is yours and yours alone. Walking directly in my foot-falls will show where I am, but it does nothing for you. Sooner or late, you will have to leave the Path, and blaze your own trail through the Spiritual wilderness. Because, in my personal opinion, Spirituality is an unplanned experience…its not a play with a script that you basically read from. Yes, we do utilize scripts in group rituals. You can just read the words of the page, or you can put some dramatic flair into what you are reading – become the role you are assigned. No one is asking you to be an actor…only for you to put emphasis and your experience and emotions into the role. Its the same on your Spiritual Path. Sure, you can follow me…sure you can do things EXACTLY as I did. But in the end, you are robbing yourself of putting your own stamp on what you are doing. You’re missing the chance to really be you, and to let that light shine brightly in the darkness.

I get asked a lot about the OBOD Bardic and Ovate initiations. I have been through both. I could easily provide all of that to someone who is asking. I could detail aspects of the ceremonies. And I would be robbing that initiate of the experience of those ceremonies. An experience that I found exhilarating and exciting. Something that continues to have super strong meaning to me to this very day. And I know that my experience was unique because it brought meaning to what I knew. Why in the world would I want to rob someone of all of that? As a moment of remembrance, I’ll leave with some Grateful Dead lyrics that have always had great meaning for me on my Spiritual Path, from the song “Ripple”:

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

As I said before, music is a huge part of who I am. And lyrics are ways that I have used to help process aspects of my life in a manner that I can better understand. I am not a leader, and yet I am. I cannot control how others might see me and the manner in which they set me. But I can resist the temptations that such affiliations can offer. Because in the end, I’m just me. Another traveler on the road with you. This Path is for my steps alone. But the song says nothing about those that walk beside you on the Path. Let’s walk together until you need to blaze your own trails. Besides, I like the companionship…

Coming Out as Pagan…Personal Observations

So, you have decided that you are going to be a Pagan of some stripe or another. You are excited about this new change in your life, but how do you tell your overtly Christian family about it? Or worse yet, how do you answer your co-workers question about your religious beliefs? Being a Pagan comes with walking a fine-line through an intricate minefield, especially in a modern society that still holds tight to the conviction that those who are not Agnostic , Atheist, or a member of the “Big Five” belief systems – is automatically encased with the title of “devil worshiper” or so it seems.

So, in my mind there are a few factors that you have to consider when deciding whether to open up to the non-Pagan friends, family and co-workers. First, you will need to understand their individual character a bit. Are they the type of person that may freak out when they hear this “news” about yourself? Ar they the type of person that will use this “news” as a way to hurt your reputation with others? If, after determining that, you have a bit more to ponder for yourself. Do you really care what they think of you? Are you ready to deal with any unexpected backlash that may come from this? Making the statement of what you are and what you believe can be a complicated, and overly stressful moment. I tend to compare it in the same nature of making the statement that you are LGBTQ to your rather conservative, straight-laced (no pun intended) family. Its a difficult moment, for sure. But after you weigh those factors, have determined that you are “ok” with any repercussions (including being completely ostracized and shunned) – then you have to decide the timing and place of your declaration.

I have never really hidden who and what I am. But I also don’t shove my Paganism into peoples’ faces either. My primary reasoning is that I could care less what anyone really thinks about me – save for a handful of folks that are extremely close non-DNA family to me. But those particular folks have already accepted me for who and what I am with no reservations. but I do occasionally run into somewhat “squirmy” moments from those that do not know very much about me.

Back in the mid-1990s, I moved from Shreveport to Dallas, so that I could take a job working on a Mainframe Tape Operations floor. One weekend, one of the other tape handlers and I got into a discussion on religion. Kenny seemed like a decent enough young man. He was at least a decade younger than me, and we had very similar tastes in music. I was very straight forward about being a Pagan, which he didn’t quite understand. I tried to explain the perspective of a reverence for Nature, leaving the more complicated issue of Polytheism out of the mix. Earlier in the week, both of us had applied for the open Tape Librarian position, which I would later be promoted to. Kenny decided to utilize his knowledge of my beliefs as a means to discount my abilities to the upper management of our group. When he reported his “findings”, the group manager told him flat out that she “didn’t care if I worshiper the computers on the tape floor, so long as I did my job.” Kenny is a prime example of how someone might use your beliefs against you in the workplace. As I said, my group management folks didn’t seem to be bothered with my beliefs. The next year, I received a bonus for the hard work I put in as a Tape Librarian, which was double that of the other Librarians. I was lucky that my management team valued hard workers over the potential image that they might potentially project from their life outside of work.

My last job was almost the mirror opposite. A semi-large community college, where religion is really never meant to be any kind of an issue – it was. Upper management was overtly Southern Baptist and Charismatic Christian. I spent most of my time avoiding religious conversation, even with my direct supervisor who I consider to this day to be a friend. His overtly Charismatic Christian perspective was difficult to avoid in normal conversation. Somehow I managed, until I had made plans to attend an ADF Imbolc retreat in southern central Texas. I was asked what my plans were for that weekend. My response was that I was going to a spiritual retreat. The discussion continued – rather one-sided – until he hit on the idea that I was heading to an all-men’s retreat. He had attended several all-men retreats with people from a church he used to belong to in that area, back when he was at college in Austin. I seized on that moment to confirm that I was indeed going to just such a retreat. I never once said I was going to an all-men’s retreat. Merely that it was an exclusive event, as you had to pay to cover the costs of the location rental, and the food. I let him seize on that concept, and never tried to push him off that square. It wasn’t until three years later, during another of his prolonged religious conversations that he would hold in my office, that it dawned on him that I wasn’t a Christian. Unfortunately, that particular conversation changed both our working relationship, and our friendship. I still consider him to be a friend to this day – just not as deep a friendship as it was before I had gotten hired. My judgment of how he would react came from what I knew about his deep-seated convictions in his beliefs – as well as the manner in which he regarded anyone not in the Lamb’s Book to be sinners and headed towards Hell. I knew enough to try and conceal my beliefs from him, until he managed to deduce it on his own.

I never have told any of my DNA relatives that I am a Pagan, save one. A cousin of mine in Indiana, who is a bit more open-minded than the rest of my DNA relatives are. Outside of that, even when my parents were alive – I have never been close to any of them. I have always been considered the “odd” one in the family…and life certainly got easier when I held them at a much greater distance than the non-DNA members that I consider as my “real” family. I have never broken ties with them, though there have been times that I stopped communicating completely for a time. Its a manner of trying to keep my own sanity.

So, should you tell your family, your co-workers, and every stranger you meet that you are a Pagan? Really that is completely up to you. Like I said, I don’t hide my Paganism. I just don’t have to be blatantly overt about it. How far or how little you wish to place yourself out in the public spotlight…I cannot and will not determine that for you. All I can do is provide a couple of points of caution. There are people that will use that information to further themselves while pushing you back. Be aware of the people you open up like that to. Its not the Satanic Panic of the 1980s (I lived through that as a neophyte Pagan), but for many folks – the term Pagan can conjure some strong, visceral reactions.

–T /|\

Thinking About: The Storm – Just One Opinion

Remember back in 2019, when we were looking at the coming year of 2020 as a better day? That things were going to be a little easier? I do. Somewhat. I don’t really look to a period of time in the future to being better than the one I am currently standing on. That’s because I don’t know whether it will or won’t be. My personal philosophy is take each day one step at a time. Take each week one day at a time. Take each month one day at a time. Each year one day at a time. Each decade one day at a….what? Oh, you get the point. 🙂

I do hear a lot of people openly hoping for that better day coming. Or even those that keep hoping that the future will look like the past. Both sets of folks are going to be disappointed, in my opinion. The only thing I can be one-thousand percent confident about is what has already happened in the past. What’s happening today? Right now? That’s as much a surprise for me as it is for you. What’s happening in the future? I have no idea. I’m no fortuneteller nor do I claim to have any stranglehold on any corner of what is to come. As such, I can only take one day at a time.

But, here’s what I know. And it comes from a set of lyrics from the band Styx. The song if “These are the Times”….

If the flickering light of your campfire dims
The world grows smaller, it’s closing in
I’m standin’ here, and I want you to live

(I know) These are the times we find out who we really are
This will be when a true friend stands at your side
Someone like me who wants to believe
In the days of high times and innocence
Drawing the lines and shouting back to the night
Someone like me who wants you to live

–Styx, “These are the Times”

Just about every Pagan I know is talking about the phenomenon known as “The Storm”. Some have been talking about it for several years. Others are just coming around to the concept. When you arrive at the idea doesn’t really matter. The Storm is The Storm. Many folks pin it to the concept of the crumbling American Empire. Not me. I see it differently (of course I do – I have to be different – or so some folks would say). This isn’t about the decay of an Empire. Nor is it the orgasmic demise of Capitalism within society. Certainly that idea is better than Viagra for Bernie Sanders, but I just don’t buy into it being the core of The Storm. At best, those concepts are symptom of what is taking place.

For me, from what I have been able to glean and tease from my understanding of what is taking place, this is about a societal change in the way we regard others. The old guard – mostly people of my generation, the Baby Boomers – have held the aspects of wealth and material accumulation above everything else. This is basically a knee-jerk reaction to the concept of the Hippy generation prior to them, where people could do what they needed to so long as they didn’t harm others or the environment. In my understanding, this is an ideal perspective (I have always claimed I was born a generation late), but it does not reach far enough. The future generations see the decaying planetary environment that is currently in place. They see all the people who do not have enough to survive appropriately, and the way that society looks down upon these people because they do not help themselves out of the lower levels of society. No acknowledgement is given to un-level playing fields or the extremely difficult obstacles that have been placed in the way of most of these folks. The Storm is born from what is being done to re-balance things to be able to provide capability and capacity to those that want it.

No, I am not saying that people trying to achieve these balances are at fault for The Storm. I am saying the friction of their desired aims against the current established perspective of the so-called “haves” is causing much of what we currently have going on over our heads. That friction is causing the backlash (perceived or not) from those in positions of so-called power. I believe that this is what allowed the current US President to be elected, since most of the folks that are catching that backlash have been taught that their vote doesn’t mean anything. But that’s only a symptom of everything. The cause continues to be the struggle between two different perspectives over the value of life. Don’t think so? Recently, Governor Abbott noted in a conference call with other legislators in the state of Texas that re-opening the state would certainly result in more deaths attributed to COVID-19. Who is mostly at-risk in that situation? The wage workers in the retail stores that just opened. The lower ends of the workforce, who have been badly impacted by the lack of income from a shutdown. Those with monetary means are certainly taking a hit, but not as devastating as those wage workers who typically live from paycheck to paycheck. So, how do we know its ok to completely re-open the state and claim “victory” over a virus? Well, you need lab rats…and in chess the pawns go first. Pawns are expendable. On the chess board, these are the wage workers.

The Storm is a form of class warfare, in my opinion. And its not. Many of the people that need a leveled playing field are those wage workers. And before you accuse me of propping up in favor of my own status, I haven’t been a wage worker since 2000. However, I do know all too well what it is like to be living from paycheck to paycheck. Where tomato soup and ramen become the primary staples three to five days before the paycheck hits the account. Where a single automobile part failure can send a family budget spiraling out of control for weeks to months before recovering to where things were prior to that moment. But The Storm is a form of class warfare, and at the same time it is not. It is about finding empathic solidarity with your fellow human beings, and changing the rules from where things are set by the current societal perspectives.

Back in 1985, less than a year out of high school, I was taking a Sociology class at LSU-Shreveport. In order to demonstrate the differences in society, the class was divided into three groups – upper, middle, and lower classes. The goal of the upper class was to insure that all members stayed in that class. The goal of the middle class was to propel members upward into the upper class while insuring that no members fell into the lower class. The lower class was to propel members into the middle class. Each member of each class would draw a card that gave them a certain number of points each round. If members of the middle class and lower class had points higher than a member of the group above them, they would exchange places. In other words, if a member of the middle class had more points than the lowest member of the upper class, the two would change places in their respective groups. Predictably, when the points for each round were passed out, the upper class distributed their points among their group to insure that the lowest point members were as close to the overall group as possible. The members of the lower class would pool all their points for the round and give these to the individual with the highest number of points to move them into the middle class. The middle class group never shared their points with any of the other members – or if they did, it was an extremely rare occurrence. After about five rounds, I was in the middle class group. I set my cards down and announced that ALL of my points would be evenly distributed among the other members of my group. The professor asked me what I was doing. I stated that I realized that this was class warfare, and I had no desire to participate in such a mechanism. I was allowed to sit on the outside and declared to be “an anomaly” – essentially a random segment that exists but should be ignored as being insignificant. I have often wondered what the professor would have said if the rest of my classmates had enough spinal material to have done the same.

In a manner of speaking, my stepping out of the classroom exercise was similar to what we are experiencing with The Storm. In that classroom exercise, I received a zero, even though I had initially participated prior to my declarative moment. That was the backlash moment, my “Storm” within the classroom. We have always had those that wanted to have others treated equally within society. For the most part, their voices were small and considered insignificant. Today, “The Storm” is the equivalent of what might have happened in that classroom if my fellow students had joined me in semi-exile from the exercise. Many elements of today’s Storm are from the consequences of our collective actions as a society to keep things “status quo” when more and more people are realizing that the “status quo” is no longer truly working. Because they are willing to stand up and shout that a change is needed, you see the consequences of those actions.

Please realize, I am not stating that this is a bad thing. In fact, I am a firm believer that we need to go through this to achieve what is necessary. Balancing the equation and leveling the playing field are some of the necessary elements that need to be created to allow our society to evolve beyond where we are. Certainly, I can see the elements of a “crumbling Empire” and the “death of Capitalism” encompassed within that, even though I see it more as the pains of an “evolving Empire” and a “re-thinking of Capitalist theories.” I am certainly not looking for a dystopian societal paradise. Right now, my focus is making it through the Storm with as many of you as I can. As the song says, I’m standing here, and I want you to live. Even if you are on the other side of what I see and believe. Because its not just the human thing to do. Its the right thing to do.

–T /|\

Difficult Times Do Not Demand Radical Change in Your Spirituality

So, made it to Tuesday….first blog of the week. And no topic has really come to mind. So I do what I normally do – I read. This time around, instead of pulling books off the shelf, flipping to some arbitrary point to see if a topic to write about hows up, I spent some time reading blog posts from folks I haven’t read for a while. Over on Night Owl Meditations on Patheos, Jessica Ripley had a blog post asking if your Spiritual Practice was really serving you. Its quite an interesting post, but a particular section actually caught my eye:

We worry about what a new normal means. We forget that we have a hand in creating it. We so easily give up the power we have to shape our lives with this all or nothing way of thinking. A chaotic time is the most important time to remember what you do control. There’s a time for railing against the loss, and there’s a time for acceptance and empowerment. If we don’t get to the place of acceptance and empowerment, then we are willfully giving up too much. Life will continue to happen, and not one of us is immune to difficulties and loss no matter how much magick we practice or how spiritual we think we are. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use what’s at our disposal to make things better, though.

Jessica Ripley, 4/18/2020, “Is Your Spiritual Practice Serving You?”

Yeah, this Covid-19 issue has definitely come along and disrupted what everyone seemed to understand as “the normal.” We have found ourselves isolated to our homes, finding new (old) ways of communicating with another, and finding plenty of time to do our own navel gazing. But what if this is what the new normal becomes? What if we have to look suspiciously at the person in the grocery store that isn’t wearing a mask or suddenly coughs? And what about the practices that normally make up our Spirituality? Currently, large ritual gatherings are not really a good idea. Travel from point-to-point is spotty at best. Are virtual rituals going to become the new aspect of our Spiritual lives?

Well, as Ripley points out, we truly are the ones in control. What happens to us, our reaction to it, and our ability to adapt – all of that is in our own control. The virtual rituals, concerts, and gatherings that have been happening are innovative ways of filling that social gap that we feel is so empty. For those of us in more rural areas, sometimes these virtual gatherings are not entirely possible. I moved from up on the north central area of Texas to nearly smack in the center of the state. From one rural area to an area that is a touch more rural. Streaming anything is a definite challenge. But, I am also an individual practitioner, so much of these online gatherings are not really that necessary for me. The online rituals that are designed to showcase how to practice celebratory rites as a single individual are all good, but not necessary for someone who spends that large majority of his Spiritual focus alone. That’s just my own perspective, because I do know a lot of people are getting a lot out of those streaming moments.

Now, I am a type-II diabetic. I have asthmatic reactions to colder weather that was brought on by a serious bout with pneumonia very recently. I was already treating people with some degree of suspicion when it came to potential illnesses and the such. My lousy immune system already sets me at risk for easily catching the common cold and influenza. All of that only makes me a higher risk factor towards catching Covid-19 from an individual that already has it. My reaction could easily be one of anger, particularly when encountering individuals without masks, and those who do not practice social distancing in public. Anger will provide nothing in this case, except maybe to let me feel a touch satisfied at venting my frustration. I could also spend my time interacting with my Gods asking “Why? Why now?” Instead, I have decided to utilize my energy towards preventative measures when I am out in public, minimizing my contact with other people as much as possible, and staying in my current place of residence as much as I can. Now, to be clear, I cannot tell anyone else how they can or cannot react to all of this – everyone processes information differently. Rest assured, how you feel is how you feel. That is true…for you. I’m not about to deny that in anyone else.

So, with all this change happening to “normal” – how do I handle this in daily Spiritual life? To be honest, not much has changed. I still greet the sun whenever I wake up…before or after sunrise. I still do my daily devotionals to Coyote, Crow and Abnoba. I still follow the celebrations of the Wheel, even though my typical celebrations with others have turned into singular ones. Just because the times out in the mundane world have changed, doesn’t mean those in my Spiritual walk will radically change too. I have come to a better understand of the nature of The Storm. It has zero to do with a “crumbling Empire” and more to do with a position of difficult times that can have dangerous consequences for anyone.

Is all this the wrath of the Gods? Is it Nature or the Earth biting back at human kind in order to put us in our place? Is it a karmic retribution for not taking the issues of climate change seriously? I honestly have no idea. All I really understand is that this is happening right now. And that we, as a species, are learning to change and adapt to it. We will struggle with this for some time to come. I am not looking to my Gods for answers though. I am looking to my Gods for strength and resolve. Just like anyone else out there, I have the desire to live through this. I have a desire to see everything go back to “normal” – whatever the Nine Hells that might look like. Unless, this is now what normal is. And we will adapt. Its what we humans do quite well. Two Quid.

–T /|\