Devotional Practice – My Approach

As I have mentioned before (quite a few times), I am a Polytheist, a Priest of Crow, and maintain my own devotional practice to Him. I have a few friends that are also Polytheists and have their own devotional practices with their own Gods and Goddesses. And our individual practices all look different, which is as it should be. I’m not interested in making my own practice look like theirs. I’m interested in making my practice work for the relationship I have with Crow.

My Backyard Stone Circle
My Backyard Stone Circle

At Pantheacon this year, I attended several concurrent sessions throughout the time I was there. When I was choosing what sessions, I was going to attend, I did so with a mindful purpose. I wanted to attend sessions that would help me strengthen my relationship with Crow and Coyote. At the time, I was also going through what I had perceived to be a potential start of a relationship with The Morrigan. That turned out to not be the case and was also colored by a certain perception bias I had instilled on things as well. It turned out to be a set of Valkyries that came to deliver a point. When I looked through the sessions, three stood out to me instantly, and I knew I had to attend each of these.

The three sessions, “Beginning Devotional Practice“, “Advanced Devotional Practice” (both by Silence Maestas), and “Brigid: History, Mystery & Magick of the Celtic Goddess” (by Courtney Weber) each had an immediate attraction for me. While I have a daily devotional practice working with Crow, and from time-to-time with Coyote, I am always open to the prospect of new ideas or techniques. The Brigid session, on the other hand, was an odd choice, given my so recent flirtation with Fliodhais. Still, I knew I needed to be at all three of these sessions. I’ll discuss the Brigid session in another blog post though.

I had attended Silence’s session at Many Gods West last year. So, I had a decent idea what I was expecting in these sessions. I knew there would be an open discussion, allowing members of the audience to share their own thoughts and perspectives. Last year, this was an invaluable tool for me in gathering my thoughts concerning Fliodhais, and where I thought things would be going. As it turned out, the flirtation was just that. And eventually, my devotional practice has set back to Crow and Coyote, with some extra work with the various Spirits of Place up here by the Red River that forms the border between Texas and Oklahoma.

In the initial stages of the beginning session, Silence talked about the basic aspects of starting a devotional practice. Choose a single thing to start with, and do it until you are extremely comfortable. Then begin to add other elements as you are called to do so, and continue working with your daily practice. My start came from greeting the Sun. But what the start is, does not matter. Silence added in some characteristics of Devotion into the conversation: Choice, Constancy, Perseverance. The choice allows you to become an emotional experiencer.

Why Have a Devotional Practice?

For this question, I cannot really answer for anyone else. Everyone will have their own set of reasons. For me, the start was with Coyote. I was seeking a Guide that could show me pathways I had never considered in my own Spiritual approach. In return, I was offering to be Their hands and feet within this realm. I spent three years thinking I could make a connection with Germanic Gods and Goddesses. I wound up with Coyote answering my desire for guidance. It made sense. I live in the middle of Native American lands – the southern edge of the central plains. I knew Coyote to be a Trickster. And I spent a lot of time being humiliated by Him before I finally stood up for myself. ‘Why would anyone want to work with me after making me into such a mockery?’ ‘At least you understood the point of the lessons. You need to stand up for yourself’ was the answer I received. And thus, started what has been nearly a decade of solid work with the first of my Trickster Gods.

Choice

You choose to do this practice. No God or Goddess will compel you to do any of this. They may ask, but it is still your choice. You have the Free Will to say no. Granted, there are consequences to saying ‘no’. Just as there are consequences to saying ‘yes’. Be sure you are prepared for either perspective. Just as well, be prepared to receive no answer at all. Too often, I have heard Polytheists say that they feel like they are doing something wrong when no God or Goddess answers them, directly or indirectly. That they feel they are doing their worship and devotion wrong when no Gods approach them. Worship and devotion are your choices; not a compulsion, not a directive. Sometimes, the Gods don’t answer. Just because there is not an answer or a manifestation, should that be the definitive answer as to if you believe? Remember, the Gods are not Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that just spit out the answers and Their attention whenever you ask for it or manage to punch in the right combination on the keypad for Their attention. The Gods do as They see fit as well. They also have choices. They also have Their own Free Will. Remember, devotional work with the Gods is a relationship, and relationships are cultivated – not created with the snap of a finger. Trust needs to be developed. Relationships are grown.

Constancy

Perhaps the easiest aspect of Silence’s Characteristics of Devotion is that of Constancy. If part of your devotional work takes place at the butt-crack of dawn (as mine does), then be there. That consistent behavior provides the religious context of what you are doing. And honestly, your devotional practice needs to be something that you can do easily. You do not have to wind up looking and acting like a Catholic Priest or Nun in your devotion. My devotional work requires me to be there. If I happen to be wearing a Rush concert t-shirt and a torn-up pair of jeans – then that works. Constancy is not about dressing the part – it is about being you. No matter how you look. If “robing up” is something that helps get you into the frame of mind, then do so. Just remember, you may not always be somewhere that you can just do a quick change into a set of ritual robes. As I noted, part of my devotional practice is greeting the sun as it rises into the morning sky. Even when the clouds obscure it. Even when it is raining outside. Or in the case of my trip to Ireland two years back, standing in a waiting area in the Dublin international airport. And while I stood there and looked out the window, with a cardboard coffee cup in hand and my carry-on backpack hung over one shoulder, it was a magickal moment indeed.

Perseverance

So, you have made the motions. You have set up your devotional practice. You have decided which God or Goddess you want to work with. And They do not answer or acknowledge you. What now? Well, keep at it. A relationship with a God or Goddess is like any relationship you have with anyone else. it can take time to build the trust necessary for a relationship to be established. You do not have to pitch a piece of expensive jewelry into a lake to show that you have devotion. Well, maybe you do. That is truly up to you, and the nature of your relationship with the God or Goddess that you are flirting with or Who is flirting with you. That is a choice for you to make. The point is that whatever relationship you are cultivating takes time. And once the connection is there, like any relationship, obtaining depth requires constant work (remember Constancy?).

This is a relationship of choice that you are building. A choice that was made between you and a God or Goddess. Certainly, They are beings that we do not ultimately comprehend completely, but this is still a relationship. Just as it took some work and time to develop trust between yourself and your significant other, the same holds true here. You want that intimate relationship? That takes work buddy. And that work requires you to be constant, work through difficulties and misunderstandings, and to choose to have this. If you are wanting it just to have a God or Goddess notch on your altar…you’re not approaching this as you should. Remember, relationship = trust, trust brings intimate relationship, intimate relationship = commitment, commitment comes from hard work.

A Caveat – I Am Not an Expert

Now, I have stated this before. I have also stated this in the professional conferences that I have led sessions on SQL coding. I am no expert. I can only relay what I have learned, what works for me, and what does not work for me. I am not the final arbiter of what is or is not devotional practice for anyone. Well, except for myself. In that realm, I certainly am the expert and final arbiter. All I can really say is that anyone who wants a devotional practice can develop one. You must commit to study, practice, and ritual to achieve what you are wanting. Read, do, repeat. Or as the bottle of shampoo notes – Lather, rinse, repeat. And above all else, look carefully at what it means to cultivate a devotional relationship with a God or Goddess. Like any relationship, the prime commitment is time. Be sure what you are getting into before you do it.

–T /|\

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Three Drops of Awen – From Kristoffer Hughes

 

IMG_0211 (1)
Morning at the ADF Imbolc Retreat fire…

I am currently trying to get myself prepped for three events happening in my life over the next eleven days. I am packing for the ADF Imbolc Retreat in the Texas hill country, a professional conference in Corpus Christi that starts immediately on the heels of the retreat, and Pantheacon just a single day after I return from Corpus Christi. So, essentially, I am packing three different bags for three very different events. Yeah, I have lost my mind.

 

 

BookofQuotes
My book of quotes

A while back, I had lost my “quotes” book, which is a small leather wrapped notebook that I carry with me nearly everywhere. In my determined unpacking from an event last year, I had placed this on a shelf in my office, and then set my two bottles of Bushmills’ whiskey in front of it. Given that I am carrying whiskey with me to Imbolc, I pulled the bottles out to pack and re-discovered the notebook. Naturally, I started thumbing through it and came across several quotes I had written down from last year’s Gulf Coast Gathering, which Kristoffer Hughes had attended. I thought it might prove interesting to explore some of what was said…

 

The Druids of the future will look to the Druids of today for reference when it comes to ritual.

Given all the navel-gazing I have been doing over the last few months concerning legacy, and how the Druids of the future will stand on the shoulders of the Druids of today who are standing on the shoulders of the Druids of the past – this quote was quite interesting to find as the first in my little book. My notes next to this state that documentation is key for the future understanding of the past. And that rituals can help restore order to that which is in chaos.

I admit, there are times when I look at the state of what I perceive to be our current Pagan community, and I have moments of despair over the constant arguing and fighting. And it is difficult for me to see a way forward where there may be cohesion and agreement. I want to have the grand vision of a larger, vibrant world-view, where Paganism is readily accepted on equal terms to Christianity, and other world faiths. With the constant turmoil, arguing over definitions, terminology, and trying to develop standards of who is “Pagan enough” just do not seem like strong forward reaching efforts to me.

And then I get the feathered wing to the back of the head, as I am reminded again and again that a myopic view of the world is the narrow focus that needs to be avoided when looking long-term. There is plenty of documentation taking place through books, blogs, conferences, podcasts, videos, and retreats such as the one I am about to attend. When I start focusing on all the squabbles, I miss all the wonderful things that do move things forward. The multi-faith efforts that happen throughout the world, the growth of the wider community in areas of ritual and daily devotion, as more and more Pagans reach out to find a deeper connection in their spiritual lives, as well as a stronger commitment to their Gods.

Druids are not defined by who they are. They are defined by what they do.

Part of what I am learning about myself is that service to others is paramount to who I am. Whether that be through this blog or stepping back into my local Pagan community or being a mentor to others seeking to find deeper connections in their own lives – living my life is about reaching out to help others. And through that point of individual service, no matter how great or small, I learn a bit more about who I am and what I am capable of. As well as a good dose of humility, which I have been sorely in deep need of.

We all strive for meaning in our daily lives, as well as meaning to our overall existence. For many, that is a concept that is difficult to deal with – the struggle is definitely real. And I can definitely add – it is a lifelong battle. Sometimes, you can feel that you have a complete handle on things, and then a single event can collapse all that confidence like a house of cards in a hurricane. In the end, it is the actions that provide the glimpse at the depth of meaning behind who we are. The individual intention, beyond anything else, gives motion to our actions. When we live an intentional life, we give focus to what we do, how we do, and why we do it. Which oddly enough, dovetails with the last quote I have from Kristoffer…

Your job is not just to know ritual but to understand the “why” of ritual.

Honestly, I can read book after book, article after article, and listen to talk after talk about ritual; practice performing the entire script of what needs to be accomplished; work on the flourish of my hands; perfect the intonation of the words that are spoken – none of that means anything if I do not have a clear understanding of the ritual’s overall meaning. All the book knowledge in the world will not breathe heart and soul into what I am attempting to accomplish with the ritual. All the acting skills in this world, the Nine Hells, and beyond the veil will not mask a lack of heart and passion geared behind the “why” of the ritual. A poorly followed set of words, motions, and movements will pale when that individual is doing so with the passion and fire synced to their desire to do all of this for the appropriate reasoning and intent. And this is one of the reasons that I have always felt so in tune with my impromptu, unscripted, off-the-cuff rituals that just whisk me away into the moment. It might seem “wrong” to someone else, but it is a moment of pure perfection for me.

In a little over a week, I will make my way to Pantheacon, where I will have the pleasure of seeing Kristoffer’s smiling face, and hopefully, experience a massive bear hug. I am looking forward to attending a handful of presentations as well, where I will hopefully get to add to my quote book. And I am thoroughly over the moon at finding my little friend once again…

The Gods Are Alive – You Need Only Reach Out and Open Your Mind

A few nights ago, I was contemplating the legend/myth of Santa Claus. Seemingly, it is interesting that something near to this image of a jolly, older guy passing out presents is so far-reaching and encompassing throughout many cultures around the world. Perhaps, it can be attributed to the wider reach of Christianity throughout the entire world. Maybe. I would prefer to see it a little differently though. I believe that the underlying concept of freely sharing the joy and love of what human beings can be – regardless of nationality or race, is an easier concept to reach for so many.

We live in a world where conflict is common-place. So common-place that many of the conflicts are not readily reported in the news media. But then again, with most of the news media concerned with who hates the Sunkist-Orange President or where a “fascist” can be found that can be punched in the face – news is not as readily available since it does nothing to assuage the feelings of an extremely vocal few. And that is truly a post for another time.

No, the entire concept of Santa and gift giving is a wonderful sentiment to have. I would hope that it spreads to more than just a single day. And more than just six days throughout the entire year. As a myth or legend (whichever you prefer), it does make for an interesting study of just what myth and legend can mean to us as a global society. And not just religiously oriented myths. Myths and legends provide our somewhat monochrome, monotone world with color and expression.

In 2016, I attended a panel on Mythology at Pantheacon, where the discussion turned from the myths as we have told them prior to the addition of modern technology versus the addition of CGI and movie technology providing a new vision. And while I would posit that these modern adaptations of the myths, bear the marks of how the Hollywood producers and executives deem the Gods to be, or even how the Gods seem to be to the graphic novel writers and artists would dream the Gods to be; there is an impetus that these modern adaptations do bring people into Pagan traditions. These people may dabble in various traditions before they cast these off and find their own manner of approaching the world around them. And some of them may stay within a Pagan tradition, finding their own expression of the Gods that drew them in – ditching Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as the embodiment of what the Gods may seem to be to them, and finding their own imaginative interpretations within their own minds and hearts.

Petroglyph Trail - Mesa Verde National Park
A narrow passageway along the Petroglyph trail in Mesa Verde National Park, where I came face-to-face with Crow.

As I noted in my “Static or Dynamic Mythology” post back in 2016, for me the Gods and Goddesses are alive – each their own individual manifestation. But the myths and legends are alive as well. Surely, some of these myths and legends have grown and adapted with the colorful additions of Bards and Storytellers throughout the ages. An embellishment that becomes believable is a true gift of a storyteller weaving his or her spell around a campfire. The same holds true for those same stories translated into a written word or onto the large screen of the movie theater. And given the desire of so many to purchase books, watch movies, and even tv shows geared to the myths and legends of our times – the thirst for the colorful nature of myth and legend is readily evident.

And the thirst is not even true for just movies or even mythology. To present that perspective, look to the X-Files tv shows and movies, which tackle many modern myths and legends. Aliens, shadowy government forces, and deep, hidden conspiracies are all a part of our modern cultural myths. Some are unlikely to be true, but it does provide some color to our black and dark blue suits, with the red ties and white shirts or even the more mysteries camouflage and olive drab uniforms.

Or perhaps, your concept of myths and legends is geared more to the far east with guardian monsters protecting the woods, mountains and streams o the island of Japan from the rampaging force of Godzilla (hat-tip to Mojo)? The idea of a monster created from the frightening and dangerous powers of nuclear energy is a rather modern one. Godzilla has been rampaging throughout Japan since the 1950s. Taking a rampant fear of nuclear technology and applying it to monstrous creations that destroy small-gauge railroad sets made to look like the Japanese cities and countryside, provided both a story that has become beloved and a more hidden warning of the need to respect the Kami that are literally everywhere.

Our myths and legends will continue to grow and deepen as we grapple with the questions of where we fit into the world, and even the universe, around us. And many of these myths, legends, and stories are adaptations of situations within our own lives – projected onto a wider screen than any monitor or television: our own minds. No offense to the amazing CGI and Hollywood writers, set designers, and animators – my own projection of Crow is more amazing than any special effect could make Him. And while I am not reliving any legend or myth (and I really don’t need to) – each day of my life is lived within a landscape of living Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, and my own Ancestors. Every day brings me new experiences that have meaning, complexity, and depth to me. Paganism and Polytheism are not for everyone. And not every person will have similar experiences as I have. However,  without taking the time to explore, the patience to try multiple times, the desire to read and learn about where you are diving deeply into, and having an open mind to what you are experiencing – you may never know. The first step is wanting to.

 

TommyElf, the”Writer”?

I have always had trouble coming up with topics to write about. Honestly, it took a long time before I realized that the books I was reading could spark topics and questions for blog posts. Nowadays, any book I am not reading for leisure takes longer to read because I have a notebook in hand when doing so. In that notebook, I jot down questions to ask of myself, topics to explore in more depth, and even books I need to locate and add to my growing collection. From those notes, I create these blog posts.

Two years ago, I attended my first Pantheacon. I was fortunate enough to have a semi-experienced guide for that time in fellow blogger (and far better than I could ever dream of becoming), John Beckett. Since that time, John has become a published author with his really great book, “The Path of Paganism.” While at that Pantheacon, I went to several panels, wrote copious notes, and came back with more blog material than I could have dreamed of. Since then, I have notes from other conventions, some Pagan gatherings, and even from interviews from podcasts such as “Down at the Crossroads.” More interestingly, I have started to gather blog topics from conversations I am having with other Pagans – both in online and face-to-face conversations. In short, I am finding blog topics nearly everywhere around me.

I have never been a prolific writer. In collegiate classes, I was praised for my writings in several research papers and essays. In a Creative Writing class, I wrote a short story based on a true incident that I had in going back to my unit in Germany from a rehabilitation stint I had in Wichita Falls, Texas. Incidentally, when I first joined the United States Air Force in 1986, it was this same base that I did my technical training at. Now, I live less than an hour away from that same base, here near Gainesville, Texas. Amazing how life tends to revolve in circles and cycles. Back to the writing aspect though, my papers and essays were mostly singular writings. In other words, I wrote a single draft, checked for spelling and grammar issues – and then submitted the assignment. Rereading those assignments, I can see where my writing truly fell short.

Back to the writing aspect though, my papers and essays were mostly singular writings. In other words, I wrote a single draft, checked for spelling and grammar issues – and then submitted the assignment. Rereading those assignments, I can see where my writing truly fell short. Circular logical references; thoughts and points that were cut short; and just generally poorly constructed explanations are rife throughout all of that work. I am truly amazed that I managed to make my way through two Masters degrees and a Bachelor’s degree with what I had submitted.

Looking back on older blog posts, here at the site, I also see many of the same faults. And a lot of that stems from my own lazy habit of writing singular version posts. I know I am a good writer, but as I was once told by an evening fire during one Gulf Coast Gathering, I have the ability to be an even better writer. So, in an effort to try and move beyond that singular version writing of blog posts, I write very little during the last two weeks. Well, very little that got posted. There are currently four posts that are being written – not including this one. One will be completed tomorrow (Sunday) and posted. The other three will be completed and set up for posting automatically. So that material can be reread, revised, and rewritten as necessary.

Coyote taught me not to take myself too seriously. I learned to laugh at myself and my mistakes. To not think of myself as having complete mastery of anything. All of that helped me learn to not be overly serious and find the fun in everyday life. I am more likely known as a smart-ass than anything else. However, those closest to me also know about my serious side. My desire to get things “right”…not just “right enough”. That is carried over into my daily life, into the statistical and data work I do for the college. But I have managed to not bring that into things outside of work. I clown, I kid, I try to find the absurd in everything. And somewhere between those two extremes is where I really am. It is long past time to embrace the two, and be a little more serious…while also finding fun.

So, to start the more serious, more deliberate aspect of writing…I provide this post as that moment. I know my initial efforts may not be the brightest, shining examples of this. However, these are just the start. I hope to get far better, a bit more deliberative, a bit more precise in what I write. I am not sure I was meant to be a writer, but I am meant to relate the stories – both of my everyday life, and those of the Gods. I am excited about the possibilities and fearful of the technique in doing so. As I was reminded shortly after my Ovate initiation, being a little fearful of what was about to take place was an indication that I was taken the approach in the correct, serious manner. There will be seriousness, there will be fun….

Plain-Language Programming – Mean What You Write

Back in 1995, I took a class in Pascal programming – much of which I have forgotten at this point in time. But the instructor taught us a programming concept that he called “pseudo programming” which basically boiled down to regular sentence statements for what was going to be done. For instance, if we were going to write a loop, we would create pseudo code that looked like this:

Check variable [x] for [y] value
As long as [x] does not equal [y] do the following
(long string of functions to be performed on data and stored)

Later on in my professional career – which admittedly looks like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney – I learned that this process is sometimes referred to as “Plain Language Programming” which is just a fancy way of saying that you are talking about stuff in a manner that non-programmers (for your language) can understand what is taking place in the block of code that you are commenting upon. This is typically done so that some other meathead programmer can come along and comprehend what was going on in that garbled mess that I call a brain, without me being there. Or as I pointed out to my students when I taught – if I stepped off the curb in Sundance Square in Fort Worth, hit by a speeding city bus, and thus turned into a pile of mushed meat that could fit into a can of KalKan – someone else could pick up where I left off. Yeah, it got a few giggles and some startled looks, but it kept the students awake. But that’s a deer trod that we will ignore for this post.

Plain Language Programming is wonderful stuff. Its just easy, plain, to-the-point descriptives of what’s taking place. But its not as easy as you think. You have to be precise with what you state. Saying that a block of code “processes some stuff here, and spits out data in the magic format required” is not nearly as meaningful as “the process performs calculations on the data to determine a player’s batting average, on-base percent, and slugging percentage. Once completed, the output is put into a comma-separated value format as specified by the required upload format at baseballstatsarecool.com”. Precision in the language matters, particularly where description is concerned.

All of this comes back to Starhawk’s presentation “Crossing Stony Ground” at Pantheacon this year. The point made was “Watch what you say or repeat…” Next to that, I wrote “PLP” for Plain-Language Programming. When we read or hear something – particularly in these overly sensitive times in our online environments, we can sometimes misread what is being said – totally missing the point of what is being said. I know I have that issue, just as anyone else does. Rather than reading through the entire message for context, we leap to our conclusions or answers based on a small amount of information. Sometimes, its because we are in a rush to provide a response or opinion. An appropriate example came this morning when I was playing Jeopardy on my Amazon Echo. The question was “What number is the last Constitutional Amendment…” (I had my answer here) “…to the Bill of Rights?” I fired back with “What is 27?” That would be right, except that there’s the extra added part of “the Bill of Rights” which makes the answer “10”. Instead of waiting for the rest of the question – I had the answer. And it was wrong. See, words have meaning…and not enough words gives you only a partial picture.

…and its interesting to watch all of this take place, particularly within the online in-fighting we see among the Pagan community. We bicker, we fight, we posture, we threaten, we defend….and most of the time, we haven’t even gotten into the “Bill of Rights” part of the statement, which allows for context. We find our conclusions, form our stances, build our defenses, populate the ramparts with archers – for a single rabbit on the path to the main gates. Granted it could be a killer rabbit…with fangs! So perhaps, we’ve done the right thing by sliding into DefCon one from DefCon five.

No, words have meaning. And when you work without the full context of those words, misunderstandings take place. And from those misunderstandings, we draw battle lines. And from those battle lines…..well, you get the picture. Much like plain-language programming needs to be as descriptive as possible without being overly complicated, we need to be careful about what we invest into what we read or hear, until we know the context of everything. Online communication, being rather binary in its nature, is easily misunderstood. There’s no depth or dimension that is carried by tonal inflection. No additional context added by physical aspects. No smiles. No hand gestures. No standing or sitting postures. No hint of laughter in a voice. No sternness portrayed by narrowed eyes, or surprise by widened ones. As such, we need to be careful with what we say, but also in what we repeat. We need to be sure to hear the latter part of the statement, so that we know that the last numbered amendment refers to only the Bill of Rights, not the entire stack of amendments. And really, the only way to accomplish this – is to learn to slow down and listen. Not an easy task in today’s lightning paced, online driven social environment.

My Odd Thoughts on Journals – Hand-written v. Keyboard

So, I write poetry. Back in the day, I wrote a LOT of poetry. Being in the military at that time, with a girlfriend back in Shreveport, Louisiana, I sent all of those poems to her. She would cut them out of the letters, and put them in an album. When we broke up, I never saw that album again. But then, I discovered BBSs, and wrote a lot of my poetry while logged in. I was rather prolific there as well. When Renaissance BBS closed down, I was provided with a printout of all the poems I had written there. Two moves – one to Germany, the other back to the States – provided a loss of those poems as well. Thinking back, I believe it may be somewhere close to 400 poems or more that I have lost over that time frame – probably to never be seen again.

These days, I tend to write poetry here on WordPress, and will sometimes back it up on EverNote. But the reality of that has been slim to non-existent, which is a bad habit I have fallen into. A few years back, I submitted one of my poems – Lone Wolf: Innocence in Snow – to a writing contest here at the college. I won first place in the poetry contest, and also received an award for best writing work for the entire writing showcase. I realized at that point, that I needed to start backing up my work, particularly since I wrote mostly in a digital environment.

As I noted, my backup efforts have been sporadic, at best. So, when I finished my Bardic Grade with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I realized that I needed a better manner to protect my writings – particularly my poetry. So, I bought three blank, lined journals – dedicated one to my own personal thoughts, the second to my upcoming Ovate Grade Gwers work, and the third to my poetry. Now, my efforts are towards writing out my poetry by hand into my journal. And in doing this, I discovered something rather strange.

As I started reading through my entries here on WordPress, I realized that I had written poetry that I couldn’t recall. There were a few that I remembered, but as I looked through those, I realized that these were poems I had hand-written back in the late 1990s. The other poems were ones that I had written in the last few years, via the computer. As I sat and pondered over this, it dawned on me that many of the appointments and event schedules that I write in Google calendar are easily forgotten a few days later. Furthermore, I found myself using Google calendar for a few days, and then no longer using it like I had previously. However, if I wrote things down – even as a scribbled note on the back of an envelope – I could easily recall what I had written three, four, and even eight months later.

Maybe its just a learning concept for me. If I write it, I remember it. I remember every single note I took at Pantheacon, earlier this year. I hand wrote all of those notes. A meeting with another department, I couldn’t recall a single note I took. That meeting was less than two weeks ago. I wrote those notes using a blue-tooth keyboard connected to my iPad.

There is a history of Alzheimer’s disease among the male members of my family on my father’s side. My grandfather, before he died, couldn’t even recall who his grandchildren were. My father had trouble with his short-term memory before he passed away a little more than two years ago. Perhaps, its just my genetic makeup?? If so, why should I be able to recall what I wrote at Pantheacon a few months ago with a slightly fuzzy clarity?? And why can I not recall poems I wrote a little over two years ago on a keyboard, and have vivid recollection of poems I wrote back in the early 2000s, and even back in the mid 1980s?? Its certainly a concept to study a bit deeper.

As an experiment of sorts, I have started moving all my writing – save for the blog – to pen and paper. I am also moving my calendar from Google to a daily planner. And I will be taking careful notes about how well I recall things using these methods for the next year-plus. Who knows? Perhaps my clarity of recall has something to do with rote memory of what I write physically with my hand because of the motion. Maybe its something to do with how I learned as a child. Maybe its none of that. Or even all of that. But this is the kind of stuff that puzzles me. And the kind of stuff I enjoy researching.

Connectivity, indeed…..

–T /|\

Life as a Long Hike

As I noted in a previous post, some of the minor themes in a talk given by Starhawk at Pantheacon this year have brought interesting conceptual thoughts to my mind. One of the more interesting ones was looking at one’s life-time journey as a hike. A really long hike.

Now, I enjoy walking. I get a chance to wander and accomplish what I call “walking meditation” where I can literally turn a single thought over and over in my mind as I walk. Lately I have not done a lot of these, and I really do need to change that. But that is a thought for another time. Using a hike as a metaphor for life was certainly an intriguing thought. There are all sorts of things that can be utilized in hiking that can be brought over to looking at one’s journey in life.

Pathway in Mesa VerdeFor instance, probably the easiest one to bring into focus is the ups and downs of life relayed into the hiking of hills and valleys on a path. I walked a rather long trail in Mesa Verde National Park. The start of the trail was up a steep hill to get closer to the cliff-side nearest to me. Once there, the trail hugged against the cliff-side, and narrowed considerably. The drop-off into the valley below was extremely steep and at times a sheer drop-off. At other times, the path passed through very narrow passageways between large boulders and the cliff wall. It was along this pathway and through one of these passages that I encountered Crow, which I can describe in no other way than an initiation of sorts. At one point, the trail scaled straight up a cliff wall, which – for me, as an individual with an acute fear of heights – was quite harrowing indeed. But thinking back along the lines of a hike as a metaphor for life….makes perfect sense.

The steep climb at the start of the hike, is quite similar to the initial steps one takes in life or even a Spiritual Path. We do not necessarily know exactly where things are or how definitions to certain terminologies or concepts can map into our own lives; so there’s a rather acute struggle. Or if you prefer, a climb of sorts. As we accumulate knowledge and understanding, we build on each concept and build and grow our application of that to our own lives.

But hills and valleys can have other meanings as well. The height of a hill can be a positive moment in our lives. Where we reach the pinnacle of some aspect. Everyday life seems to be in harmony with anything we do or try. We feel the awesome joy of accomplishment, able to look outwards at all that is our life, and survey the beauty of everything that is there. The valley, with its downward momentum, can have the feeling of riding in a vehicle without brakes. Gaining speed at every moment, careening dangerously along the path; a certain painful, and sudden stop that may certainly be in our very near future. Our demeanor reaches depths of sorrow and despair, as if our immediate world is being torn asunder. And we know that once we reach the bottom with our painful, injurious stop accomplished, that our future will require a slow, difficult climb to reach the heights. At times, we can feel like laying at our stopped location in the valley, staring up at the sky with despair that we will once again have to expend the energy to achieve what we once had. And we know that the top of the coming climb will provide a different vantage – similar to the previous one we had – but different all the same. Each individual person will have to determine whether they feel that such a climb is still within who they are.

And then, there is the narrow pathway that I found along my Mesa Verde walk. There were places where the path lead down a very steep, and short dirt path to the cliff edge. The drop off was certain life-threatening. A single misstep could potentially spell outright doom for me. Every step was carefully determined, each handhold was carefully tested to insure I had a strong grip, and that the handhold would hold enough to keep my pudgy ass from pulling me over the edge. Believe me, that the cliff edge was very much on my mind. We do much the same thing throughout our lives. We make plans for this or that; we make preparations for how we are going to accomplish these tasks. We make plans and preparations for our rituals. We decide where and what we are trying to accomplish. And sometimes, that narrow Path is the only way forward we have. Its not the yards-wide Path with smooth dirt or concrete or asphalt that we would prefer. Its rocky, uneven, and fraught with ways for us to trip and fall. We take our steps slowly, trying to keep our balance, and our footing. We navigate our way through some aspects of our lives in careful, measured steps. Where we have walked many times before, we might make quicker steps – faster decisions – sure of our footing or our position. And we might find an unknown root in our way, ensnaring the toe of our boots, and sending us sprawling face first into the Path. What else is there to do, then pick up our wounded pride, check for injuries, dust the dirt off our clothes, and move forward – looking more carefully?

So, there are certainly ways to see Life as a long, long hike. We get a little cocky on our walk, trip and fall in places where we seemed to be certain of our footing. In other areas, we are acutely aware of the drop-off at the cliff’s edge, and tread far more carefully. But the true measure of our hike is not how far we’ve managed to walk. That comes from looking around us. Seeing the environment within which we’ve walked. During my walk along the Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde, I was struck by how beautiful the views were from my side of the wide valley. The land rolled outwards from my vantage point, moving hundred of yards in distance until the other side of the valley rose sharply from the ground. Once I got far enough away from people, I could see deer – or they might have been antelope – down in the valley below me, searching for food and water in the brush far below. Crows cawed from the trees above me, and Hawks soared on the thermals in the skies above. There is so much to what happens around us in Life as well. People come and go in our lives. Some stay and walk the Path with us from time to time. Some stay longer than others. All of them touch our lives to some degree, even if just momentarily.

Life is a long hike. But its not the distance that matters most. Its what we experience along that distance that matters the most. Those experiences make us who we are. Steep climbs; long valleys; thin trails; deer trods that we can barely see; extremely wide, paved paths – all of it provides the trail. But what we encounter on the trail, and just off the trail adds to what makes our Life experiences. And from my own perspective, those experiences are the treasured aspects of who and what I am.