Stems and Pieces – Unintentional Thoughts on Beginnings and Endings

One of the odd moments of blogging is where you have all these “mini” topics floating around. John Beckett calls these his “Nine Things I Think” and has turned these into a near regular segment of his blog. Me? I’ve called these various things, but the one that keeps coming about is “Stems and Pieces” – being a fan of mushrooms….  Rarely do I have nine things…but here are a few things playing with the hamsters on the wheels in my head…

BookofQuotesTomorrow morning will be the release of the last podcast episode I plan on doing. This will be the second podcast I have brought to a close. I just do not have the time to really dedicate to putting together a full show. I will continue doing interviews with various folks and placing those interviews on Soundcloud…but no more complex mixing of a podcast for me anymore. When I shut down From the Edge of the Circle, I wasn’t too sure about letting go of something I put nearly nine years of my life into. Now, nearly three years later…I know this is the right choice. My mind is not in a state of melancholy of stepping away from the podcasting world…I have enjoyed my time doing these, but it certainly is time to move into what I have been spending my time doing: my writing. Besides, there will still be interviews…

A short while back, Philip Carr-Gomm brought about the public transition of one chosen Chief – himself – to another – Eimear Burke. Now, a lot of folks know that I am a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I have been tossed a handful of questions privately asking for my opinion. Well, first off, I am just a member. A solitary one at that. While OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering (GCG) is the closest thing I have to a spiritual family, I am a solo practitioner here on the Texas-Oklahoma border. My first reaction was one of shock – particularly after having just met Philip face-to-face at this years GCG just a few months prior. But after re-reading Philip’s statement on his blog (here), I cannot help but to be overwhelmed by the amount of thought and love that went into deciding this transition, as well as finding an individual with whom he is at ease with to walk through this process. Most leadership changes happen very quickly. This one will take place over time, allowing for a gradual transition from Philip to Eimear. And I am so thankful that such careful thought went into the all the aspects of this, particularly the speed. In my opinion, it will help ease what – at least for me – has been a sudden shock.

Another aspect of transition within Druidry is when one passes beyond the veil. Yesterday morning, I woke up to the shock that Anthony Bourdain’s suicide had occurred. At first, I tried to fathom the idea that someone who seemed to be so full of life and had such a relish for adventure would want to end their life. But that is really a wrong thought. I have no idea of what was the tipping point in Anthony’s life, merely the speculation of what I saw on the camera. And I have to be a little realistic – all my speculation is merely me pasting my own ideas of life on to Bourdain. It is such a natural thing to do – assuming that others feel the exact same way that you do. We do it when we think about politics, the social causes we champion, how we feel about others – we paste our feelings, emotional IQ, and intellectual processes on to others. How can they NOT feel the same way that we do? And if they do not, they must be emotionally bankrupt, incapable of feeling or emotion, or incapable of “properly” processing information in a “proper” manner. I did just that with Bourdain’s death. I have no desire to slip beyond the veil anytime soon. I love life here far too much. There is so much more that I desire to do, so much more that I desire to see, to experience. How could anyone else not feel that way?? Yeah…monovision…hyper-focused inside of me…rather than taking the subtle differences between myself and others. One of those personality faults that I wish were not a part of who I am…but a part of me that allows me inner flame to burn as brightly as it does. A two-edged sword indeed. Bourdain’s CNN program was one that I caught occasionally, and I marveled at the things he would do and try. I sincerely hope that his storytelling style inspires others to reach out into the unknown around themselves – and experience things they never dreamed of. It is definitely something I take away from watching Bourdain’s experiences…to always try something new….

Many folks are understanding and experiencing aspects of the Storm in their lives. A lot of this is, in my opinion, about taking the perspectives of others into account. There certainly is some normalizing of dismissive behaviors that have gone on in the past. A lot of folks have called it “privilege” which is a wording pattern I dislike. Sure, it might be because I am a white, hetero, middle-aged male. Yeah, whatever. I just do not get into the concept of shaming folks. To me, that is just pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. I’d rather yank the pendulum out of the clock, and not have the damn thing swing from one extreme to the other. Besides, we can use the Sun to tell approximate time…you know, the important stuff, like sunrise and sunset. The rest of the time can be figured out by your stomach. I would rather see people treat one another as equals, but that is an idealistic world. So, how do we change it all? I am not sure, I have no answers. However. I can change my thinking, and my actions, and my words…because I am in control of those things. No one else can change that…only me. Perhaps the true measure of revolution comes from the mind of the individual, rather than the rage of the mob. Perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was on to something…I would like to hope so. When you look at a battlefield, all you see is the carnage. The dead bodies. The destroyed equipment. The ravaged, deep scars of where weapons have created massive craters. Where forests have been destroyed by the combat within or burned down as a result of that combat. All the animals that have died or moved deeper into the forests to escape the destruction and havoc wreaked by man fighting man. We turn away, thinking there is nothing that can be saved or recovered from all of this devastation. A few years later, Nature returns when left to Her own devices. And all these beautiful flowers that have grown throughout that devastated land…that is hope. And that is what I am looking for…after the Storm. First, we have to find ways to manage and survive all of this. Because this will not be the end…

It is interesting to look back and read all of this. There is a lot of discussion of endings, with some notations of beginnings. I honestly did not intend any of that. At the same time, I am glad it organically developed – much like a simple stew that you keep adding ingredients into. Yeah, stems and pieces indeed…

 

Improvising in Ritual? Learn the Basics First…Trust Me.

So, let’s ditch out of the talk of the impending “Storm”, shall we? There are plenty of folks writing their own perspective of that…plus, my focus is really elsewhere. Instead, let’s drift over to working within one’s own personal Spiritual practice and walk down a favorite trail of mine: improvisation.

Wholly committing to improvisation implies taking risks. It’s a philosophy of leaving yourself open to possibility and leaving yourself open to magic.  –Dennis McNally

The quote comes from the authorized biographer of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally. The reference is to the musical style of the band. In hundreds upon hundreds of shows, the band never played the same song the same way twice. Certainly, there were elements that were replicated as faithfully as possible, such as primary riffs and rhythm tempos, but solos were off-the-cuff – and sometimes even the primary elements of a song were taken in directions by various band members. As a group, they were tight enough to work with each change. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

I enjoy the music of the Grateful Dead (and its various spin-offs and incarnations) – enough so that I have somewhere around 2900 tracks, totaling approximately 18.7 days’ worth of continuous music. There is, for me, something truly magickal about the way they approach their music. So free, so pure, with a nearly jazz-oriented approach to just playing for the sake of playing.

A good part of what makes my Paganism comes from this perspective as well. Off-the-cuff, impromptu rituals for one (remember, I practice most of my rituals alone) that leave me so alive and in-tune with the world around me. It truly is a gorgeous thing to behold, at least for me. But there is a key to being able to work on such a high tight-rope without a net (so to speak), and it is similar in nature to playing music improvisationally.

Learn the Basics As Best You Can

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A picture taken by John Beckett at this year’s ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat. For some reason, John takes really awesome pictures of me. The dude has a seriously awesome touch in photography.

Musicians will probably say that individual solos are some of the things that they get to enjoy the most. That moment allows them to showcase what they are good, or even to experiment with a style or technique that they normally don’t get to display. It is a moment of creativity and playfulness that is the crux of why they enjoy playing the instrument of their choice. But before they could get to boogie down on these beautiful moments, they had to learn to play their instruments. That means taking on the basics, and practice, practice, practice. The same can be said for ritual. Learning the basics of the ritual format that you use is essentially to being able to spin off into riffs on what you would normally do.

And I actually speak from experience on all of this. When I first started on my Pagan Path, I was doing things within Wicca. Now, Wicca is not the right format for me. But in my initial training with the American Tradition of the Goddess, I was to learn their format for rituals. To say that I did not enjoy their format is an understatement. So, when my moment came to show what I had learned, I handled the ritual as impromptu as I could. I refused to use the traditional quarter notations, nor did I call the Guardians of the compass locations in a proper manner either. I themed the entire ritual concept around wolves, as the group I was working with were formed around the concept of wolves. It made sense to me. It worked, for me. I wound up being scolded for not following the proper format. I was also praised – by the same person – for my creativity.

Now, all of that had a negative impression for me. It also deeply imprinted upon me how Wicca was not the appropriate place for me to be. Several months later, I parted with the group and became the Solo Pagan that I am today. What I failed to understand was that the creative part was acknowledged, but would have been better accepted if I had shown my understanding and adherence to the basic concepts first. Now, a few decades past that point, I have grown a bit more in who I am, and comprehend the need for basics to be found first – and once those are understood, you can futz with the workings to see what you get. The basics give you the foundation that allows you to stretch your creative muscles across – sort of the same manner in which the bass player and drummer provide a background on which the guitarist can improvise without losing the crowd as to the familiarity of the song.

Do Not Be Afraid to Fail

I grew up in a family where failure was not an option. I was seriously afraid to bring bad grades home, as my typical punishment was to get the strap from my father. Sure, we could talk about the “abuse” that it was, but the point is that I was not provided the opportunity to fail. And in not knowing how to fail, I was always afraid of not being successful. Same goes true for ritual. I always obsessed over the idea that I *had* to get it *right*. Even if I had never done it before. I had to succeed. Failure breeds experience. When I did not get things right, I always examined the “why” of things…I always tried to see where I missed the point or where my effort fell flat. In essence, I was learning.

Thanks to a whole lot of folks within the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, I have learned that failure is nothing to beat yourself up over. Every year, at the Gulf Coast Gathering, there are mishaps, bad statements, incorrect placement of individuals, misunderstandings of where and when a person should be at this point and time in the ritual. Everyone makes mistakes. Even some of the more experienced folks have had their issues too. And instead of folks scolding others…there are gentle reminders and nudges to get people back into their roles and say their parts. This is lighthearted laughter and friendly cajoling over missed or misspoken lines. There is no judgment. There are plenty of smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement. Because people need to be allowed to fail, so that they can learn from those experiences.

Do Not Be Afraid to Succeed

And then there is the opposite side of that perspective: success. And I suffer from this more than anything else. The other day, I noticed that a recent post of mine, Devotional Practice – My Approach, had reached a level of reach on Facebook I had never seen a post achieve. My reaction was not one of “Wow, that’s amazing!” Rather, it was one of “Oh Gods, what is happening?” I am not really geared for large-scale success, because I truly do expect things to fail. This is a mindset trap that I need to dislodge myself from going forward, but I am sure there are others out there that feel similar.

So, you do the ritual. In the middle of the ritual, you try some magickal working. It has never worked before, why should this be any different, right? Except that it does work. Whatever it was that you were trying to do, happened. What’s next? Well, let’s not get a big head and think that everything else will work if we do things the same way again. After every ritual, I make notes about what I did. If it was a public ritual, I write notes about the part I had in the ritual (if any). How I felt afterwards. Was it indoors or outdoors? Anything of significance to my mind’s eye goes into those notes. And when I get ready for another ritual, I go through those notes. I note my previous feelings for similar rituals. And in my preparations, I try my best to find anchors from the previous ones to help me stay grounded and focused in this current one. And I decide what a “success” will be to me in today’s or tonight’s ritual. And I aim myself in that direction.

Now, one side of this that I have intentionally left out – how I approach all of this with my own devotional work. Why? Because everyone approaches that very differently. Even two people approaching the same God or Goddess. Our individual connections to the Gods are unique between us and each of Them. Trying to tell someone how to approach something so personal and distinct, in my opinion, is not useful whatsoever. Open yourself to your own Gods, and They will guide you on what is appropriate and what isn’t. That’s about as much advice as I dare give in that direction. I am not here to create a dogma of belief for anyone, other than myself.

Just remember…ritual can be your own free-form expression to the Gods. But like any improvisational musician, you need to understand the basic framework of ritual. For me that is the framework within OBOD. Once you are comfortable with that framework, then improvisational work will become a useful tool in your workings. Yes, I did it backwards…and there is a lot I am still unlearning, so that I can relearn it in a proper framework. But I still have the heart of an Al Di Meola or a Pat Metheny when it comes to personal ritual. And improvisation is still such a joy to me…even if I did learn it in a manner that makes learning regular frameworks a bit difficult for me. I hope you can take something away from this post, and place it into what you do – and have the Awen spring up unexpectedly in everything you do.  –T /|\

Individually Not Blog Posts – Together They are Blog Stew

Welcome to the little pieces of topics that I just cannot get a complete blog post around. So I shove them all together here and make a blog stew out of them. Not sure about the taste, but at least the ingredients get used, eh?

Let us talk blog posts, shall we? What an odd topic for a blog post – blog posts. In the past, I have tried a bit of scheduling and I have also tried posting whenever I feel like it. The odd post timing just does not work. Plus, I spend a lot of hours at the keyboard of the Mac in the evenings on the weekends. Instead of playing Zen pinball all the time, how about I start writing blog posts instead? And better yet, how about we do not let me get away with being lazy about it too? So, I will start scheduling blog posts here on Life With Trickster Gods – and how about we make it Mondays and Thursdays for blog posts, right?? And I can always get away with an unscheduled one from time-to-time on the weekends. Works for you?  Works for me. But that lead me over to another point about blogs…..

I am now writing blog posts for Moon Books. I am actually really chuffed about this. I have many of the Moon Books titles on my bookshelves and on my kindle. Most of my posts there will be related directly to a topic pulled from one of those titles. My very first topic-related post was on ritual and was inspired by Rachel Patterson‘s amazing book The Art of Ritual. Over there, I have decided to post twice weekly as well, using Sundays and Wednesdays as the days I will post. Stuff is a touch trickier there, but I will look into the ability to schedule posts there as well. Hopefully, I can do that, but if not – I will need to login there to make my posts. I am super excited to be posting there with so many of the authors that I admire greatly, and many, many thanks to Trevor Greenfield for providing me with this chance.  🙂

With the Major League Baseball season firmly in the books (Yah Astros!!), I am hard-pressed to find another sport to watch. I am not a fan of American football whatsoever, so that sport is out the window for me. With real football (soccer here in America) only available on the weekends (Bundesliga!!), I am giving hockey another try. I started out trying to root for the Winnipeg Jets, but I just cannot find anything I enjoy watching on this team. So, I settled on the Toronto Maple Leafs. I enjoy watching their style of play (they pass a lot more than other teams seem to), and….well…if I am going to root for a hockey team, its got to be in Canada. And no, I am not a Dallas Stars fan – even when they were good.

My calendar for the coming year will have me down near Mountain Home, Texas with the ADF Imbolc retreat – an event I have started to refer to as my “second home”. The people that attend this are some of the kindest, most loving people I have come to know. Whether they realize it or not, they have become family for me. After that, I have a professional conference for my job to head to in Corpus Christi – like IMMEDIATELY after. I will be there until Wednesday and then travel back to the Texas/Oklahoma border. I get one day off, and then it is on to Pantheacon that following weekend. Shenanigans are likely to take place, though I am wondering if I will be able to peel my eyelids back. We shall definitely see…..

And last, but certainly not least – the podcast will be back. Upon a Pagan Path has been on the back burner for most of the year. Mostly because I just have not had the time to mess with it due to a lot of changing aspects of life. But sometime around December 15 to the 20th – a new episode will be out. There will be more of the interviews. More poetry read. More Pagan musical artists featured. And maybe even a short story from time to time. What there will be less of is me. I need to take a major backseat to the rest of the podcast. So there will be a lot less of me rambling on about life…..and don’t try to fake that sigh of relief. ;)~

Anyways, that is all that I have. Hoping that you are enjoying what you read here. If you have anything you want me to write about in here – shoot me an Email:  elfster@gmail.com.  I promise I won’t bite.  Unless you want me to.    –T /|\