So you’re an Elder…what now? Finding my role without really looking…

I am an Elder in the Pagan community. I have been on my Pagan path since 1986. Other Pagans do talk with me about their own Path and seek advice as to what I would do in their place. And honestly, every time that happens, I hit freak-out mode, even though I do realize that it will happen, and people will ask.

During the Iceland trip, I actually had a long, interesting conversation with two folks over a lunch. Yes, advice was asked for, and I tried my best to puzzle out how I would respond in that individual’s situation if it were me. Afterward, I still had my little freak-out moment, and I knew I needed to process this a little more because it has become increasingly more obvious that situations like this will continue to come about.

img_9678Part of my consternation comes from my dislike of titles, particularly those bestowed upon me simply because of the amount of time I have been on my Path. I can somewhat grok the perspective that my thirty-plus years as a Pagan provide me with a potentially unique insight. I have seen much happen within the Pagan community in that time. Some good, some bad, some not easy to label with a descriptive. I have watched some Pagans maneuver through their starting points on their Path with grace and ease, I have watched others include myself, struggle through some aspects in a difficult measure. I have watched some Pagan communities splinter and dissipate, while others grow, change and evolve. But does all of that observation (and in some cases my own participation) provide me with some unique perspective that makes me all-knowing or places me in a better position than anyone else to offer advice or perspective?

Traveling through this part of my feelings, and my struggle towards accepting my own role as an Elder has brought me to this point. What in the Nine Hells am I expecting of myself in a role as an Elder? My struggle with this has nothing to do with the people that stop me along their own Path and ask questions. No, my struggle comes back to a feeling of being responsible for someone else’s Spiritual Path. Which, to be blunt, I’m not.

I’m not trained as a Priest. I do not, will not and cannot perform those functions. There are members of the Pagan community who are more than capable of doing these functions. They have pledged their lives to be Priests for their communities. Part of their function is in assisting and training others who are also on their Path. It would be wrong, unethical, and very unwieldy for me to perform such functions. I am not a clergy member. It is not my function nor my role.

However, what I can do…is talk and discuss with other Pagans. I can offer my own solutions to some of the issues that they may have. I can add my perspective and opinion to the wider conversation. My thirty-plus years on my Pagan Path does provide me with a unique perspective. But my perspective is no better, no more rich and fulfilling than someone who has been on their own Path for less than two years. The breadth and depth of personal experience are not measured in years, but in the richness and fullness that an individual gathers through their own steps on their Path. Part of that comes through discussions with others.

So, as I struggle with my own myopic view of what an Elder is, how can find my own role within the context of this label? Or do I really need to? I work in my Spirituality under the precept that I need to handle my own approach as my own. If it doesn’t conform to what someone else is doing, that is perfectly fine, so long as it works for me. As I learn more and more about my own Path, my own perspective, my own Path – I have started to realize that my divergence from what is essentially the mainstream of today’s modern Pagan Paths is not because of a desire to be different, but a need to follow what is a concern within my own personal Spirituality. And the resulting conversations with some of the newer Pagans on their own Paths is not about converting them to my way of thinking, but just pulling the curtain back on where I have walked and how I have managed to get here. I can show them the hows and whys of getting here…they still have to walk the walk. They still have to want to do the hard work that gets them to a point similar to this. I am not their Priest. I am not their Guru. I’m just me.

I have always worried about getting conflated, confused and packaged together with others. Enough so that it bothers me to a degree and level I never feel comfortable with. And I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to distance myself from others and their Paths. Especially when its easier to point out, I’m not them, I’m me. There are similarities, some very strong, but in the end, we are still different because we are not the same person. I have and will continue to follow in the footsteps of others. Not because I want to be them, but because in some instances its far better to follow their efforts than it is to reinvent the entire Wheel, particularly in learning the basics. Once I understand those basics, its time to place my own stamp of personality onto those practices.

For me, Paganisms, Druidry, Spirituality, Ritual and all that encompasses all of that is extremely personal and individual. What is useful for me, might work to some degree for another (or even not at all). There’s no judgment in all of that. Merely a different approach or experiential perspective. My role as an Elder is truly a simple one: be me, and be available. Talk. Discuss. Point others in the directions where you have been. Talk with them about your approaches. Provide advice when asked for. Try not to be judgmental about other approaches. Simply just be there. And you do not even have to embrace the title of “Elder”…you can simply just be you. Just another Pagan, living each day in service to your Gods, experiencing what life has to offer…and being there for others. In the end, this should be service enough to others because a safe place to discuss any topic is where and who I should be. And through all of that, none of it marks me as “special” – merely that like anyone else, I am unique.

I Believe in Multiple Second Chances

lakota-siouxA few words passed between a pair of individuals – seemingly harmful and hateful, but the immediacy of all that will pass. Much like sticks and stones, words can hurt. They certainly can sting quite a bit at the moment. However, the elixir of time will be a salve well used. Well, in most cases. Some folks will take the time to hang on to those moments of anger, and slowly feed that hot ember until the desired moment arises where its fires will consume the world around the individual, providing that ultimate revenge. I know. I’ve seen the start where that passing of words happens, and after a few years overseas in the military, I came back to the smoking remains of what was a thriving, cooperative local pagan community. And I have seen it happen time and time since then. The variations change from instance to instance, and the circumstances are different enough to be considered unique from one another, but still much the same framework of the narrative.

Every time I see it happen, even in my much wider online communities, I still am sad. I watch people take up sides on some of the barest specks of evidence I have ever seen produced. I’ve watched them dig their trenches deep, set their weaponry to cover the distance between their trench-line and that of the opposition – ready to ensure nothing lives between. A literal depiction of this side or that. And that’s where the sad in me starts to come out. That people cannot, even for the tiniest moment, hold out a hope of a spot of common ground, somewhere that dialogue can be had. Somewhere that civility can live.

Yes, I can hold out hope for that common ground, that place of civility between myself and someone I am diametrically in opposition to. Can I have civility with a person who is a known animal abuser and is unapologetic about their behavior? Yes, I can. Just as I would hope a Dominionist Christian could want civil dialogue with me, an unabashed, unapologetic, hard-Polytheist, Pagan Druid. Because I believe that in every individual there exists the ability to be a civil-mannered individual that acknowledges the beauty of someone else’s existence as a human being as well. Even if just for a moment. Even if all they can do is stub their toe into the edges of that common ground.

Why? Because I am stupid and foolish and naive when it comes to my fellow human beings. Because I am empathetic to the people that fuck up and never get provided the chance to change who they are. Not the second chance. Or the third. Or the fourth. Or the ninetieth. The whatever chance. I don’t care enough to count the number of times. I want them to change who they are because they see how much others want to believe in THEM – no matter what they did or might have done. Yes, I am all for being careful in all of these chances being provided for them to change. Yes, I believe they need to be treated warily and with caution from here to the day that they die and move into the beyond. But in all of that, I want them to have those multiple chances. Because I don’t want to give up on them.

I have been there. I remember how fucking hard it was. No one wanted to help. No one cared enough to help. Why? Because I fucked up and betrayed what they thought was the image of me. Karma decided to be instant in my life, and bite me in the ass thrice. I lost the people that were my family. I lost their trust. And in all of that, I lost the only paying job I had. I had the pleasure of starting all over again. And I deserved that. And I was very lucky that someone else took a chance on who they thought I could be. And from all of that, I have arrived where I am now. Three degrees: a Bachelors and two Masters degrees. Three more degrees and a high school diploma my father never got in his lifetime. All because someone saw the potential, and kept pushing me back to the straight and narrow pathway that I needed to walk. And I remember all of that….

…and I cry when I watch my Pagan community rip itself apart over the slightest this or that. I hear Pagans talk about how Christians want to just destroy all Pagans to rid the world of our beliefs. We do more than half their work on our own while waiting for only the smell of burning sulfur dioxide from a match to signal the moment we start that race.

Maybe I am stupid. Maybe I am naive. Maybe I do fart cherry-flavored rainbows on Sunday. But I do believe in more than just a second chance for people. Because I believe there is a good person somewhere in every person. And where others might be willing to give up on that, I certainly am not. Because I believe in you. I believe in what you mean to other people in your life. And I am not willing to see you as diseased flesh to be given up on. Just realize, not giving up on you does not mean I won’t protect myself or others near and dear to me from you. I trust you, but I do have some limits.

Pre-Iceland – A Few Stems and Pieces

I am about to head out for Iceland this next week with Land Sea Sky Travel. I’ll be gone about ten days from home, and likely not blogging while I am there. That does not mean I will not be writing blog posts, merely not posting them. And to be honest, I have nothing in reserve. My mundane job has been a level of insanity and intensity I do not normally see, and I have spent most of my time running from point A to point B with no real spare time between. What that means, is that starting Saturday 9/15 to Wednesday 9/26, the blog will be silent. My hope is that I can get plenty of writing time in during the trip, and have a large group of blog posts ready to line up for folks.

In the meantime, I have nothing.  LOL Except for some smaller things that I just can’t wrap a thousand words or more around. I usually call this “stems and pieces” for a lack of a better descriptive…maybe I will come up with a better moniker for this.

Q: Do you know what God or Goddess is a good, direct comparison for Crow or Coyote?

Well, you might be asking the wrong person this question. See, I don’t see a direct comparison between any of the Gods and Goddesses. To me, that implies that every Goddess of Love is the same Goddess of Love, just in a different guise to a different culture. That really does not wash with how I see the Gods and Goddesses. Each of Them is a distinct being, very real, very unique, very distinct from one another. Yes, They do address some of the same aspects of things to various cultures, but to me, They are individual and unique. If I was looking for Gods or Goddesses that address similar perspectives to Crow or Coyote, I would start with Tricksters. Dare I say, Crow is not Coyote, nor are either of Them Loki or Dolos or even Bluetongue Lizard. All of Them are unique, distinct beings that are a part of their respective cultures and mythologies. I know that likely does not answer your question, but it is as close as I will dare venture towards that line.

Q:  You work with Native American Gods. Do you consider yourself to be a Shaman?

I answered this one on Facebook a few days ago, but I wanted to add it here and enhance my perspective a little more. My original response follows:

Nine Hells, no. I work with a pair of First Nations Gods: Crow and Coyote. I have a vow of service to Crow. But my rites, rituals, magick-working, spell working, what-have-you are not those of the First Nations’ peoples. Most of what I do follows closer to that of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids’ ritual formats with a lot of it improvised on my own part with what feels “right” at that moment. I am not trying to be like any aspect of First Nations’ peoples or of European Celtic culture or anything else. I’m just trying to be authentic to me. So why Crow and Coyote? I don’t know. I have theories, but those are only theories. I could have wound up having the influence of Thor and Tyr, Lugh and Demeter, or any other combination of the Gods that could be thought of. It turned out to be Coyote and Crow. As I am continually reminded by others, the Gods call who They call. But “Shaman”?? Not my bag, man. I have no training in that arena, and it would be inappropriate to claim myself to be that, just as it would be for me to claim a title of “Medicine Man”. My service to Crow is a measure of Priesthood, and I have referred to myself as a Priest of Crow…but in thinking on that title…that’s not a true measure of the relationship Crow and I have. So it would be much more appropriate for me to say that I am in service to Crow. What title does that provide me? Honestly, I don’t know. And trying not to be rude about it, whatever title might be appropriate for me, holds no meaning or relevance to who I am and what Path I am on.

Now, to add a little more: As I noted, I have theories as to why Crow and Coyote decided to work with me and through me. But these are just theories. Why? Because I cannot know the mind of the Gods (much less human beings I see on a daily basis who are far more erratic in their own behaviors and decisions). I live in an area that is the southern edge of what used to be the central plains of what was termed “Indian country”. Three different bands of First Nations peoples lived in or near the area I live in. Perhaps that proximity means something. Maybe not. All I know is that my life is lived in relationship with two First Nations’ Trickster Gods. If They ever decided to divulge Their reasonings with me, I will have a better understanding of the “why” but my focus is narrowed more to the “how” aspects.

Q:  See you at Pantheacon 2019?

Ah, no. Sorry, but this Iceland trip will zap all of my vacation days for the rest of the college’s year (we start on September 1 so I will be massively in the hole throughout the year). I have two days of vacation left over when everything will be done, and I have those earmarked for travel to Gulf Coast Gathering in March of next year. Besides, I have been three years in a row to Pantheacon, the first and third year traveling with John Beckett, and the second year on my own. Its an expensive trip on my own, and just barely on a degree of inexpensive when keeping costs down by rooming with John. I wish I could make it back, as there are folks there who go every year (they are in the “local area” – or as local as it can get in California), who I consider as family. I adore seeing them every year…but I gotta watch the pocketbook too.

Well, folks, I gotta bring it to a close. There is packing to get done. I want to hop on the Peloton bike for my nightly ride. Looking forward to meeting new people on this trip, seeing a country I have only seen out of the windows of a B52 cockpit, and relaxing away (and out of touch) from work. And yes, there will be pictures. Lots of them. I just have to figure out where to store them all, and yes, I will point you towards them when I give them a landing spot. Stay safe, stay well, and remember to find some enjoyment out of life…even if its just five minutes.

–Tommy /|\

A Tree is a Machine – an Easy Invitation to Create Divisive Paradigms

9112248859_703762b7e2_kThis afternoon, coming back from Denton where I got a new prescription for glasses, I was listening to National Public Radio as a story came on about revitalizing parks in the DFW metro area. It was an interesting piece, and towards the end, the individual being interviewed noted that he liked trees. I was right there with him – nodding and agreeing. And then he made a statement that made me realize that we were not compatible people at all. “Trees are wonderful machines. Look at all the output that they provide on so little input.” At least that’s what I think the rest of his statement said. My ears stopped hearing him after the likening of trees to machines.

In a manner of speaking, I understand the comparison. Trees output to the world around them in the cleansing of air, providing fruits (some trees) that people can eat, and their wood can be utilized for a whole host of corporate things from buildings to paper, to heat for the home, to cooking fires…blah, blah, blah. And I have heard similar comparisons made to human beings, how we are efficient machines for the output that we manage, in so many creative and innovative manners. But, a machine.

For me, machines are cold, lifeless devices. Items pieced together to make labor-intensive tasks easier or to provide some creature comfort. However, in a manner of speaking, that challenges a perception I have towards Animism. Everything is alive. And part of the way I came to that concept was through the John Travolta led movie Phenomenon.

That one scene in the movie, along with several other moments, were helpful in my understanding of how alive the world around us is. Food, in many of its forms, provides us energy to do the things that we do with our bodies and our minds. Electrical current feeds our homes with energy that gets turned into lighting, computer use, the running of appliances, televisions, heating our water, cooling homes in the summer, and heating those same homes in the winter. Utilizing that process, that extremely simple understanding of the way that the energy of atoms in motion, could I not see the meaning of how a tree is like a machine?

I really needed to dig deeper into the reasons that I felt so “put off” by this statement, why such a logical analogy could leave such a difficult feeling for me. As I thought through it, I kept getting pulled back to the cold, unfeeling aspect of a machine versus a tree, which can react as a living entity to the stimuli of the environment around it. Perhaps, there was something in this perception that I needed to focus on a little bit more. Maybe, where I was getting skeeved off was that there was no acknowledgment of the tree as a living entity. That the tree was just there for our use. That, perhaps, I was reading intent into the individual’s statement that the earth was set here for our use, as is seemingly espoused within Christian Dominionist circles. That kind of attitude and perspective tends to set me off pretty quickly. But am I correct in this assumption, based off of a single statement in an interview with a guy who wants to create more gorgeous green spaces within my surrounding communities?

I am probably not correct in that perspective. In fact, thinking this through, I am likely broad-brushing a knee-jerk reaction on my part onto this poor fellow. And to be frankly honest, I am a bit disappointed in myself for making that step so easily. Perhaps I should turn in my Paganism membership today? Gather up my Pagan books and burn them in the backyard? Because in allowing myself to make such a rash judgment, I should never consider myself to be a Pagan, right?

Ok, time to talk me down from the proverbial ledge. Not that I really was there, but let’s face it – everyone has done this at one time or another. Sometimes over an interview that they read or watched on tv or heard on the radio – or even from a face-to-face or online conversation we have been holding with someone else. We take some big steps in our perceptions, add a touch of assumption, and voila! We are creating our own version of the boogieman for the sake of the moment.

I think this is something a lot of folks in the world need to take a long, stark look at in themselves. We live in a society that is driven by the focal idea of adversarial perspective. We need someone to be at odds with, we need someone to fight. There has to be a “good” and an “evil” to everything we do. We must champion a cause, find its enemies and crush them. After all, Conan told us that this was all that is best in life:  “Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And hear the lamentation of their women.” There’s the right side – our side. And then there’s the wrong side – not our side. Trust me, finding that division is easy. Republicans, Democrats. Rooting for your favorite sports team to win the championship title. Going to Dave and Buster’s and playing games against your friends. We are driven by a desire to win, spurred on by the literature we cherish, the movies and tv shows we watch…the perspective of dividing people up is everywhere.

So, did I tap into that reserve of division when I chaffed at the comparison of a living entity of a tree compared to my perception of a cold-hearted, unfeeling machine? Perhaps. I do know that I quickly came to a conclusion that this individual was on one side of an imagined division with myself on the other, using a very small amount of information and a liberal handful of assumption. And digging even deeper into the issue, I found an immediate challenge to my perception created from the conversation to a perspective that I hold within Animism that each item around us – made of atoms – is alive in some perspective, not readily understood or easily perceived by ourselves. That life is a subjective concept, not easily defined in an all-inclusive manner.

But I still do not like the comparison of a tree to a machine…just sayin’.

Sometimes, People Come Along

The news is typically chock full of all kinds of things to be outraged over. The constant reporting of violence in one form or another, seemingly glorified every day at 7am, 5pm and again at 10pm on your local channels. Inequality being championed as the “normal” position of the day. The insensitive nature of governmental leadership at nearly every level to the plight of those who struggle in every aspect of their lives. Read any social media platform and you will find people pissed off about one thing or another from nearly every angle. Question the reasoning behind any of these folks’ positions, and you will likely be maligned as a “nazi” of some form or another (no matter which side you talk with). Seemingly, our society is cloaked in a position of anger, ready to strike out at anyone that does not implicitly share that same anger in lock-step. I wonder how all of that raw emotion is playing out in our daily lives?

I cannot and will not answer for others, but I know it affects me. I am not the most sensitive individual in terms of picking up on empathic projections. Then again, I am not sure you need to be an empath of any degree of sensitivity to feel the palpable, raw emotion that permeates the air these days. The news is wall-to-wall coverage of these aspects of today’s society. The more outrage that can be cultivated from a news story, the bigger the headlines seem to get. And all that swirling negativity grinds on me. Each day has become a need to peel the negativity back and find the beauty of the world underneath all of that thick, dark blanket we have been covered in.

img_9678To combat a lot of that negativity, I have taken to perusing the news at single points in the week. The rest of the time, I spend reading books on topics I want to read, and occasionally finding fiction materials to deliver some escape. Beyond that, I try to be outside as much as I can. No connection to the online world, no music; just myself and the outside world. I listen to the wind, I feel the air on my face, I listen to the sounds of the world around me – alive and seemingly oblivious to the machinations of an online environment gone mad. But still I wonder, what is this constant barrage of negativity doing to us as a wider, all-encompassing society?

When I do read the news, I am seeing a lot more of the old divisions of my youth rising up again. Seemingly perpetrated by people my age, but embraced by some of the younger generations as well. Racial stereotypes, gender discrimination, age bias, even distasteful manners of assumption where individual knowledge is concerned. Much of it seems to be fueled by political perspectives as if only one side of the political spectrum wants to do right by human society. All these little islands of what is “right” and “wrong” with society being cast upon one side of the spectrum or another, and that crushing of one side will remove all the divisions that are there.

The crushing of one side. The defeat of evil, in the eyes of those that claim to be good and righteous.  In the movie Excalibur, Merlin decrees “Good and evil, there never is one without the other.” When King Arthur asks where evil would reside in his kingdom after its defeat, Merlin’s response is that it hides where one would least expect it. Indeed. Here in America, we view the world in black and white without regard to the true nature of the shades of grey that manifest between. We desire to crush one opponent, thinking that the end of the battle will have arrived. The reality is that we will find more ways to divide ourselves and continue a battle of righteousness and right. A battle of righteousness and right.

What we, as a collective society, seem to be seeking is a true measure of equality. Where all enjoy the same rights and privileges of others. Where we seek to set everyone on the same footing in life. We seek to eradicate the disparity of wealth. And once that is accomplished, we will find that state of bliss and happiness, right? Or will we?

In the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, Judas Iscariot is shown to have these desires – for everyone to be on equal footing, to eradicate the concept of “poor”. Jesus retorts to Judas’ desires for this with: “Surely you’re not saying we have the resources to save the poor from their lot? There will be poor always, pathetically struggling, look at the good things you’ve got!” Which is a rather capitalistic way of looking at all of this. The desire is not to match items of luxury to items of luxury or dollar to dollar to achieve the desired aspect of equality. Rather, a more radical shift would need to be undertaken to achieve equality….one away from material possessions and the value of workers’ skillsets. And within this modern society, where the emphasis is placed on the amount of wealth one amasses in terms of possession and monetary gains to determine “success” – I am unconvinced that this is possibly five lifetimes from my own.

So with all that noted, I am left to ponder what I consider to be “successful” for my own life and existence. And how can I work that into my own life in a fashion that helps to cushion against the madness that I perceive as taking place in the wider communities around me? I find myself leaning back to a concept I described previously, from Kristoffer Hughes’ concept of “The Pagan Square Mile”. I cannot and will not solve the world around me, that is just not possible. But I can solve what works within my own Pagan Square Mile. And I can only hope that others follow my lead. And that others follow theirs. And so on. And then perhaps, a difference can be made. And yes, I have made the reference towards myself, many times over, to the Edgar Friendly quote from the movie Demolition Man:  “I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes, people come along.” Sometimes, people come along.

 

Slow It Down…

These past few days have been quite odd, indeed. Of course, there are the usual strange bits of news that stray out of the White House, along with the stray tweet or twenty. There is still plenty of oddness felt throughout the magickal world around us, with all the weirdness that goes on with that. But for me, the most impactful news story was the death of Senator John McCain.

I was a touch bit shocked by his death. Not because I didn’t see it coming down the line, but that it happened so quickly after he stopped his cancer treatments. It brought me back to thinking of the memories I have of him, particularly in his runs for the Presidency. I can recall how much I admired his desire to buck the trends of the Republican party and approach much of his politics from his own personal perspective. I also admired his desire to reach across the political aisle from time to time in order to reach accord on some issues. That style and approach are not dissimilar to my own within life, which allowed me to view him as a kindred spirit of sorts, even despite the fact that our politics are extremely different. I admit I admired the man. Even when he added Palin to his second attempt towards the Presidency, a move I believe cost him a better chance at defeating the eventually President Obama.

Militarily, John McCain was an officer, a combat pilot. Me? I was an enlisted airman, working on computer information systems. There was no denying his status as a hero. He endured far more than any individual I have known in the United States armed forces. His style was reckless and bold – a far difference from my more meek and cautious approach in my own career. Still, as with any other military member – I considered him to be a brother in arms. As you can see, there was a lot about McCain that I liked, even despite the differences.

27858032_10155057913836751_1589891266989413670_nWhen I found out about his passing, I started taking a longer look at aspects of my own life. We were nearly thirty years apart in age – he passing at the age of eighty-one, myself about to turn fifty-three in about a month. I also have medical issues – high blood pressure, diabetes (Type-II) and high cholesterol. Lately, the pressure at the job has ramped up tremendously, which hasn’t helped any of this. Two days ago, I sat at my desk at a little after three in the afternoon, feeling light-headed and nauseous. At that point in the day, all I had to eat and drink at that point in the day were two cups of coffee, and a Hershey’s candy-bar I got out of the machine at 10am. I realized I needed some food, and that the symptoms I was feeling were due to extremely low blood sugars. So, despite the urgent pressure of getting work done, I went to the machine and retrieved another candy-bar. And as my symptoms started to dissipate and my brain-fog started to clear…I left work to get some food at one of the local fast food restaurants.

Much of my job is fast-paced, even though it shouldn’t be. But that is the symptom of something beyond my control – but there are a lot of other things that are under my control. When I eat. What I eat. Taking my medications on-time. How fast I let my world go around me. That’s right, how fast I let my world move. Let’s face a few things here….I’m not getting any younger. And while I am doing so late in my life, I need to do a better job to be able to stay around a lot longer. I’d like to live into my eighties, but that’s not likely if I don’t get control. And it definitely won’t happen if I keep letting things move at a faster pace.

This modern society is built around everything moving quickly. We schedule our lives on online calendars, plotting out nearly every moment of the day. We have to be here at this time. We can squeeze some time with this person in over a quick coffee at that time. Our entire lives can be mapped out and handled over a hand-held digital device. To make things easier, we can connect those devices to our vehicles so we can continue to be productive while we drive. We hurry from this thing to that. We only seem to observe the world around us when the traffic jam brings us to a stop as the sun rises or sets, and we see the beautiful colors in the sky. I admit I do this to an extent as well…sort of. I try not to plan my days down to the minute – though there are events and moments that do need to have times associated with them. Otherwise, if something needs to go on a calendar and no time-frame needs to be associated with it…I mark it as an all-day event. Otherwise, I have started to leave my days open – and I tend to only look at the calendar once a day – while I am eating breakfast.

All of this makes me wonder, with all the busy-ness of our lives – how much of that contributes to high blood pressure issues in people? All the stress of trying to get from point a to point b has got to be taking a toll on us in some fashion. Right? And all that rushing through life is bound to lead to mistakes, it has for me – in my mundane life, my work life, and my magickal life. Yes, folks, you can make mistakes when you rush your way through a ritual or some magickal spell-working – and sometimes the consequences of that can be quite dire. And we all know that the stress caused by all of that rushing through things causes problems in your life – mental, physical, and even spiritual.

I know I want to be around for a long, long time in this life. At nearly fifty-three, I already have had quite some time in this incarnation. I’m selfish, I want even more. And since I am not sharing this incarnation with anyone else, my desire is to wring every moment I can from within me. And that means taking care of me and slowing things down. Life isn’t meant to be rushed through and experienced in dribs and drabs between driving from location to location. Much like a good Norah Jones album, it is not meant to be run through at the speed of Slayer. Rather, you feel it, note by note. Sweet sultry intonation after intonation. Experience it. Don’t just let it pass by while you drive from spot to spot trying to tick off items on some stupid checklist. Stop everything and check your speed. Slow things down and enjoy.

#JustSayin’

Thinking on Virtues

Over on Facebook, for a time I was under a small deluge of questions from a handful of folks. I did my best to answer their questions, just not in a ton of detail. But then, one of them asked me the following series of questions…

What virtues do you see in Paganism? In Druidry? In Polytheism?

…and I realized I had what amounts to this blog post on my hands. However, before I get going, let me add a few points. I am not a spokesperson for any Pagan, Druid or Polytheist group or movement. Nor do I want to be. I am a solo Pagan, Druid and Polytheist. My approach to all three of those areas is my own. I have no High Priest or High Priestess, nor do I have any students or fellow members of my group. It is just me and me alone. And while my answers and commentary have been influenced to one degree or another by others, what I describe herein can only be described as my own, singular approach. With that out of the way, let’s take a shot at what I see as an extremely meaty topic.

Common Ground

The best place to start is in locating what I call “common ground”; what others might describe as terminology and definitions. My experience has been that without this first step, the chance of misconception and misunderstanding is far greater, especially in a one-way forum such as a blog post or a podcast recording.

Describing and defining the concept of what a virtue is, seems to be the best first step to take. In his Mount Haemus lecture, Dr. Brendan Myers states ‘…virtues are qualities of character necessary to sustain a certain kind of virtue.’ (1) The Merriam Webster online dictionary provides several definitions, but two stood out for me (2):

  • conformity to a standard of right morality
  • a commendable quality or trait merit

Working from these two perspectives, for me, it is obvious to note that this is going to step into an area I consider to be a really difficult minefield to traverse: individual morality. I do not find morality a difficult place to consider. Rather, I find it fraught with the dangers of imposing one individual’s values on to another. Much of this tends to roll down the rabbit trail of causes and proclamations I have little use for, such as the “Pagan Enough” battle cry of the last five to seven years in the wider online environment. I am certainly not going to try and paste my moral judgments on to the wider Pagan world. Or am I about to?

Thinking Out Loud

::big sigh:: As I sit here and write this, I realize that I am about to scamper across a line I dread crossing. When I am asked for what I believe are the virtues that define three very broad groups that I identify with – Druidry, Paganism and Polytheism – I realize the corner I am being backed into. As an individual, I careful craft my own statements of what I feel are aspects of each of these areas of identification with the caveat that I cannot and will not speak on the behalf of anyone else. And while I am trying to emphasis just that, I do comprehend that carving out which virtues I feel are a defining aspect of these is doing just that: providing declarative statements of what moral perspectives are “right” and “wrong” in relation to these groups. So, hopefully, like Hilts in “The Great Escape“, I can scamper to the wire fence and retrieve my baseball without the guards in either tower noticing and shooting me.

My Chosen Virtues

For me, separating Druidry, Paganism, and Polytheism from one another to choose specific virtues for each is a choice of folly. Pulling all three apart from one another removes the aspects of the other two from the third and takes away the meaning of the sum as it relates to me. So, I will refrain from doing so. Plus, since this is essentially a list of virtues that relate to how I incorporate each one of these identification points into my own daily life, separating them would mean trying to compartmentalize myself, an exercise I have found to have no meaning or value for my personal Spiritual practice. And while I do practice compartmentalization to some degree with my work and private life, even that has met with mixed and somewhat disastrous results. So let’s leave these three intertwined in a manner where each are essentially a single entity within my own life.

The first virtue I would place on the board is integrity. That includes a lot of other aspect, including a few others that will make my list as well. I will go into that in a bit more detail in the very end. Integrity is an important quality to me. This one aspect is the glue that holds all the others together. Integrity relates to my adherence to the moral code that I have. That moral code is fed from what I gather and experience from Druidry, Polytheism and Paganism, as well as a few other sources. But my integrity in adhering to that code that is constantly being evaluated and formulated in my life is a primary color in the painting of my life. Without that adherence, my moral, ethical code has little to no meaning.

Honesty, loyalty, acceptance, accountability, charity, hospitality, compassion, modesty, restraint, tact, and wonder. Add integrity to that, and you have my complete list. That should be it. So then, thanks for reading!

Well, I realize that I do not get off that lightly. I will dig a little deeper into each one of these. But again, I caution you:  this is my list. This is not meant for anyone else, except me. If these are virtues for your Spirituality and life, so be it. If any of these are not in your list, I am not saying that any of these must be. You get to do you.

Honesty, obviously it’s the perspective of being truthful in dealing with others, but there is also the aspect of being sincere in how the truth gets delivered. Which brings in the concept of being compassionate. Knowing how the truth can be hurtful, and trying to soften the blow, but still deliver the wounding aspect of the truth. Added to that mix are modesty, restraint and tact. I am, too a very big fault, modest about my part in anything. Teamwork has always been a big necessity for me. As Senator Clinton once, infamously, proclaimed in a book title, it takes a village. In nearly everything I do, I have a role and typically, there are the roles of others that are necessary in achieving an end-goal. The next two, restraint and tact, I try my best to work towards, but don’t always achieve. I am known to charge in, wade hip deep into a task or battle, and let it consume me on every level. As an example, when I first started learning how to retrieve data from the college’s old command-line interface, I would literally dream about the coding techniques I was learning. In that aspect, I needed to utilize some restraint. Tact, well I am known for being fairly blunt about my feelings on topics, even toe the point of being a little too forceful with my descriptive language with no regard for people around me. Another of the virtues that I need to learn to work with more often.

Let’s see, that leaves loyalty, acceptance, accountability, charity, hospitality, and wonder. In regards to loyalty and acceptance, I am loyal to those closest to me, unless I am shown that my choice in that loyalty was done poorly. That usually shows in the form of acceptance. I honestly could give a hang about what makes a person a person. Their gender choice means nothing to me. Who they choose to love or how many also means nothing to me. As long as they are honest with themselves and with others about their choices, none of the rest matters. I also understand the need for second and third chances. Not everyone is perfect, most assuredly not me. People screw up all the time. They make bad choices. Bad things happen and they react unwisely. Stuff happens. I am not willing to flush a person down the drain. My trust will be shaken and lessened in some instances, but my loyalty will still be there – just not nearly as strong as it was.

As for charity, well I am one of those folks that is willing to help out in whatever way I can – provided that I can get there in time. Most Pagan folk are an hour or more in any direction from me, which is where most of my friends and family (non-DNA related) are as well. I cannot always get there, but when I can – I’m always willing to roll up my sleeves and help out. No questions asked, no payment required. Though its always nice to get a hug for the effort. Hospitality, I have found this to be an integral part of what I believe. People, in my opinion, should always feel welcomed – like they have always been a part of what they are participating in, even if it is the first fifteen minutes they have ever been there. I will add a slight caveat though – charity and hospitality do have limits as well. If everything is a one-way street, that can be ok in the beginning, but sooner or later, one has to follow all that one with some giving of their own. Even something as simple as taking out the trash in a home where you have been provided a long-term space to be safe can go a long way to avoid wearing out that welcome. Which rolls a touch into the arena of accountability. No one else is responsible for the actions that I do or the words that I say or write. For me, a touch of self-responsibility can go a long, long way. Just saying.

I kept wonder for last. This, for me, is one of those traits that I hope I never lose my connection with. Wonder leads to curiosity which will bring you to the dual paths of learning and knowledge. I do not know everything. Not would I try to pretend that I do. However, I get completely excited – and sometimes flustered – when something completely different shows up in my daily Path. Often times, it is just a small piece of information that I glean from another process or way of doing things, such as a ritual technique or even some obscure magickal working. A few times, it has been an encounter with a Spirit or a God or Goddess I was not readily aware of. or even a piece of history of our wide world that I only had vague understandings of. Even those little tidbits; those small chewy morsels, can captivate me for hours on end. I sincerely hope this is a virtue that I never let go of because it is the one that really provides those adrenalized moments that I truly cherish.

Coming to a Close

As I noted before, all of these virtues; these characteristics of personality, morality, ethical behavior – these all overlap to a great deal with one another. Packaged together, these become a deeper understanding of who I am, what I value, and how I observe the world around me. But these generalized concepts will not let you know the real me. That doesn’t come with taking these generalized perspectives and trying to cultivate an individual from all of that. The true measure of that comes from sitting down and talking with me. But all of this should give you a better understanding of me. Hopefully, it helps you to find a common thread or some common ground with who I am – from a generalized point of view. And yes, I see these virtues, and many, many others encompassed in Druidry, Paganism and Polytheism. If only for the fact that I hold these virtues to be the truest revelation of my daily life traits, and I am a Druid, a Pagan, and a Polytheist. Not a single one of these traits will define every single individual who identifies themselves in those three groups. But there will be a large contingent that identifies with each one. Hopefully, all of that answers the question…

Lastly, I wanted to share the location where I am using the following definitions from. These help put a form to what I am saying about each virtue, but is not a complete definition of each one in my mind. That might take quite a few more blog posts for me to try and cover that. Definitely food for that. The below definitions can be found at: “List of the Virtues” (3):

  • Integrity: Moral soundness; Integrity is consistency of values and actions. Unbroken completeness with nothing lacking.
  • Honesty,: Truthful; sincere; not lying or cheating.
  • Loyalty: steadfast in allegiance to one’s homeland, government, or sovereign. Faithful to a person, ideal, custom, cause, or duty.
  • Acceptance: To consider circumstances, especially those that can not be changed, as satisfactory.
  • Accountability: The quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.
  • Charity: Generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering. Aid given to those in need.
  • Hospitality: Not on the list of virtues at the site. Definition from Merriam-Webster.  ‘the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.’ (4)
  • Compassion: Sympathetic awareness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
  • Modesty: Freedom from vanity or conceit. Not inclined to boast.
  • Restraint: Holding Back.
  • Tact: Consideration in dealing with others and avoiding giving offense.
  • Wonder: The feeling aroused by something strange and surprising.

References

  1. Myers, Dr. Brendan. “How Beautiful Are They: Some Thoughts on Ethics in Celtic & European Mythology.The Mount Haemus Lectures, Vol. II, Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, 2016, p.13.
  2. “Virtue.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2018.
  3. “List of the Virtues.” VirtueScience, 25 Aug. 2018. https://www.virtuescience.com/virtuelist.html
  4. “Hospitality.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2018.
    Just After Sunrise - Glacier National Park
    Here I am walking back from a vantage point, where I tried to get a picture of the morning sunrise. I had the wrong lens for the shot – so the picture did not come out the way I had hoped.