Category Archives: Two Pence

Divided We Fall…and Falling We Are

The time of Samhain is a time of change, at least for me. The colors of the foliage turn from green to golds, reds, and browns…the temperatures begin to grow colder (supposedly – it is nearly a perpetual Summer here in Texas), and the Wheel of the Year begins the change to a new year. There are those that will call this time a “thinning of the Veil” between here and the Otherworld, which I believe to be misleading – but it is a  common descriptive to describe an overlap between the Otherworld and here. The point is not about the difference between There and here or what the transition between the two should be called – merely that the blending of the two seems to be more visible to many more folks.

…and to be honest, nearly the entirety of this year has seen change. We, here in America, have elected a moron to be king – not that the choices were all that great, but that is a debate for another time.

Tell me when the stars begin
Or is there an unending place?
Or is there a guiding ship of Dreams
Floating at the edge of space?

There are no words
There is nothing you can say
But this whole world
Is turning night and day

–“This Whole World“, Coast

One of the bigger changes I have seen in myself is further distancing myself from the over-permeation of politics that I have been watching.

Not a day goes by where I have not hidden some political meme or post that someone on my Friend’s List has shared. I watch less and less of the news. Everywhere I look, there is one sub-group or another that is proclaiming some aspect of being “victimized” or trying to find some manner in which to shame some other sub-group of people. We keep hearing about “making America great again”, or how this group of people shouldn’t be included in the Democratic process because of this or that reason. Various sub-groups of people demonize others for one reason or another. And as we, as a collective society, continue to categorize and herd others into groups – the compartmentalization of everyone has begun. We find more reasons to be aggrieved over one thing or another. And we only laud our efforts to remove these divisions when a tragedy occurs, and we make the efforts to save others from natural disasters or some twisted individual in a 32nd-floor hotel suite with a cache of rifles.

A few days ago, I was talking with a co-worker about the way that nearly every grant at the college focuses on compartmentalized factors such as race or gender when dishing out monies to students that need assistance with the ever-rising costs of a collegiate education. “It is rather depressing,” I noted, “To think that students get the extra funding that they need to get an education based on their skin pigmentation or their gender. A collegiate education should be helpful for a student to develop their critical thinking skills, and help them to understand that skin pigmentation and gender mean nothing in defining a person for who they are, and what they are capable of accomplishing. Yet, here we have an entire system of collegiate monies tied to those two factors, providing meaning to something that should not have any such distinction.”

Sure, I have heard the concept of “White Privilege” or “Male Privilege” or a combination of the two thrown at me many-a-time. My response has always been the same – sure, society provides me a degree of privilege because I am a white male. That does not mean that I accept that concept as being the driving force of where I am today. Nor will I accept that this same concept will stop anyone else that does not fall under the “white male” umbrella from accomplishing anything they set their hearts and minds to. And to be honest and blunt, if there is a manner in which I could utilize that so-called “white privilege” to assist anyone that is not under that umbrella….point it out to me.

Depeche Mode said it best….

People are people, so why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully?

Indeed. I look around and watch people search out for things to be outraged by. People taking a knee at the National Anthem. Instead of asking “why”, people got mad at the action and never left that to find out more about the reckless abuse of police powers that happens all over the United States. People getting pissed about statues that were put up during the “Jim Crow” era and demanding the statues be removed and destroyed – without trying to find a better way to tell the other side of that story. Instead of listening to other opinions, intentionally derogatory terms such as “white-‘splaining” and “man-splaining” get hurled back. And the complete dismissal of an individual’s perspective by labeling it as “liberal” or “Nazi” (depending on your side of the political spectrum). To some degree, civil discourse certainly seems to be dead.

I really hate writing stuff like this. Perhaps I am too much of an idealist and believe some sugar-coated version of the world. But. I do have faith in human beings. I firmly believe that the concepts of compartmentalizing human beings on factors such as skin pigmentation and political perspectives – and believing others to be inferior because they do not fall into your particular compartment — it is a reflexive way of thinking that is taught. I also believe that when this compartmentalized way of thinking is removed, and people begin to see each other as equal human beings – we become far stronger and capable of tackling real, extinction-level issues – such as global warming. However, so long as we bathe in divisive natures….

–T

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Another Circuit Around the Sun – With All of You

Another circuit around the sun comes to an end for me, and a new one begins. Yes, it is my birthday today. On October 1st in 1965, I was born at the hospital in Tachikawa, Japan. Yes, that means that today is my 52nd birthday. For me, it means that my 53rd circuit around the sun is just now starting.

I understand that birthdays are essentially a celebration of the individual having them. However, I am not really one for “tooting my own horn” as it were. If you ever wanted evidence of that, you only have to look at how little I have ever advertised the existence of my two podcast endeavors. (smile) So, let us tackle this year’s annual remembrance in a slightly different fashion. Instead of me smiling faintly and saying “thank you” dozens of times over for birthday wishes, I want to focus on what makes life wonderful: all of you.

The turn of the calendar had me in Ireland. Another trip with the Honors program with the college. And to be blunt, I am in love with that country now. Dublin was amazing. Belfast was intriguing. And the countryside was simply incredible. If I had been given a chance….I would have stayed. I will be back….

I made it down to south Texas and hung out with a bunch of Ár nDraíocht Féin folks at an Imbolc celebration. This year, I was a little more outgoing and hung out with a lot more folks at both the main fire and on the porch. I am not an ADF Druid, but these people are more than just friends. They are family. I follow a slightly different Path than they do, but it is not the differences in our chosen Paths that stands out. We stand together as friends and family, willing to stand between threats and one another. I am truly blessed to have a family like these people.

Just a mere week later, I found myself at Pantheacon. This time, I attended solo. Once again, I found myself being a bit more outgoing than I usually am. I managed to connect with Selena Fox for a few minutes and thank her for all the help she provided to the military Pagan group I was a part of in Kaiserslautern, Germany. That was the first time I had ever met her face-to-face. I also managed to connect with Patrick McCollum, another individual that helped that same group. Bringing moments like that full circle is a totally amazing experience. I also caught up, again, with Jon Drum at the ADF Hospitality suite (I had seen Drum at the ADF Imbolc), and got to say hello to Sean H., whom I had met a few years earlier at the same Imbolc gathering. I also caught up with some OBOD family members, including the incredible Frank M. During the con, I got to spend some time with other people that I consider to be wonderful, extended family. Shauna Aura Knight, one of the most lovely souls I have ever met; the amazing Byron Ballard (whose conversations I need to sit on the edge of one of these days), and the amazing Kristoffer Hughes, who I would see again in three more weeks. Hugs from these three are the stuff that lasts a lifetime.

Three weeks later, I found myself at my Spiritual home – Gulf Coast Gathering. It was also here that I found myself at the end of another cycle, and the start of a new one. I had finally finished my Bardic grade and was initiated into the Ovate grade, where my studies currently have me. Here, I find the larger part of my family. Conversations, hugs, Screen-door shenanigans, and discussions are the fires that stoke my heart until the next year’s gathering. Again, the thematic aspect to my 52nd circuit has been about stepping out of the shadows and being more outgoing. I found myself stepping up to the Bardic Cycle and telling the tale of the “Screen Door Boar” which happened at the previous Gulf Coast Gathering. Every year, I met new people at this event. Whether they are wearing garish cowboy boats, or come from as far away as the west coast – they all end up with a piece of my heart and becoming a part of my collective soul (no apologies to the band).

The latter part of the Summer found me heading to the northwest to Many Gods West. Face-to-face, I knew NO-ONE at this event. I had met a few people online and got to meet them face-to-face. Ember, George, and several others helped stoke some long, cold coals in my polytheist’s heart. Returning from the event, I found myself diving deeper into my connections with Crow and Coyote, as well as exploring some other connections that have seemed to be mere flirtations. In many ways, the Many Gods West event pulled back the curtain on areas of my polytheism that I had only guessed at.

But life has not just been about change in my Spiritual life. Work has seen a few changes as well, with my job being more focused on pulling data and writing code. I am learning to play the guitar. I am eating healthier (no cake or cupcakes for me today – it is about vegetables and a home-cooked dinner for tonight). I am working out on my stationary bike, and have obtained a new bike to ride outside. And coming in the very near future, I begin the search for an anchor stone within the Unitarian Universalist world. And I am even finding ways to showcase my writing, which I still do not believe is the best in the world – but apparently, what I write is helpful to others.

So the world is constantly changing, constantly evolving; even if I feel like nothing has really happened in my life. And through all of it, my family, my friends have been a part of it all. And to be real – I would have it no other way. Because without all of you, the world would be a smaller, angrier, less beautiful place.

–T /|\ Slainte!

It is Still About the Hard Work

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First before, I get going too far, I want to thank Oh My Gods! for the use of the above strip in this blog. I have been a long-time fan of the strip, and am really thrilled to be given permission to utilize this particular strip for this blog post. I happened across this today (September 18th) in my Facebook feed, and realized that this would work perfectly with this particular post. Visit all the folks over at Oh My Gods! and relax with some of the best Pagan-oriented comedy I have ever read. Again, many thanks to the folks there for the use of this, much appreciated.

9352206759_c8d7e8963b_zSo, many folks within Paganism have had a similar moment that Victor is having here. They spend their forty-five bucks for some form of instruction in a magickal tradition and have all the secrets available to them. Or, in my own current case, they have spent their money and received their monthly Gwers lessons from OBOD. They rip the package open (carefully, so you don’t rip any part of the booklets, leaflets or whatever may be contained within the packing), leaf through the pages of the information, or listen to the recorded lessons contained within, and it happens….the magickal osmosis begins and the information is leaked into a corner of their brain meats. And their magickal hit points are increased. Their experience points move upwards, and according to the Players’ Handbook – they have moved up to level-three Druid or fifth-level Bard. Now they are ready to take on new modules and adventures with their newfound knowledge.

::head-desk::  ::repeat::

Yes, you have spent money on getting the materials. Regardless of the total cost, part of that is to cover the production and shipping of what you have in your hands or on your headphones, as the case may be. Reading it is a good first step. Or listening to it, if you will. But that is not the total end of it. There is still a lot of work to be done. The lessons have exercises to try. Not just a single time, but many times over. Repetition is a key part of what you now have. Repetition brings things to rote memory, particularly where ritual patterns and concepts are concerned.

Yes, Virginia, there are patterns and a conceptual perception that is a part of learning rituals. Yes, you are reading that correctly for someone that leans HEAVILY on an extemporaneous ritual format in his own daily practice. But that is one’s daily practice. When working with others, formalized ritual practice is necessary so that everyone is on the same page, so to speak. When you are working through the exercises presented to you, it is important to follow the basic outline, learn it, and live it BEFORE you change it. Much like eating sushi, you will never know if you like it or not until you have tried it. More than once.

Besides, is that not why you sent away for these lessons in the first place?  To learn what is being offered? Or is it just to sit on your shelf, becoming a set of “impressive” titles that you can have gazing down on the visitors to your office? Sort of like getting a diploma with an impressive array of collegiate initials, so as to impress people?  And for the record, I do have an MBA (Masters of Business Administration), but it is just a set of initials I can place behind my name on a professional signature block. It doesn’t make me any smarter than anyone else.

But is Victor doing bad by purchasing his lessons from a location? Maybe. I think it would all depend on where he is running off to spend his money. There are tons of Get-Witch-Quick places out there. There are a lot of long-distance education and correspondence learning formats that are so much more than that. How do you pick? Well, that’s really up to you. I chose OBOD’s system after a lot of personal research. It works for what I need it to be (and far better than I had originally realized). But I certainly wouldn’t pick based on whether someone I knew looked down their nose at it or not.

For me, the framework that OBOD has allowed me to hang my own personal aspect of Polytheism wherever I needed it to be – as close to the center of my personal practice or as far away from it as I needed it to be. I also realize that this same framework does not necessarily work for anyone else. But just because I purchase my lessons from somewhere in the United Kingdom and do not have someone immediately available for face-to-face conversation ascribes no demeaning value to it. Nor does the reception of each package in my mailbox mean that I just set the CDs and Lesson booklets on top of my head while I sleep – letting the knowledge seep in. Each lesson holds exercises for me to accomplish. And each lesson takes me a step further along a Path I have chosen to walk. Many others have walked this same Path, and their own individual experiences have provided to them lessons and experience that is unique to them.

Nor does the reception of each package in my mailbox mean that I just set the CDs and Lesson booklets on top of my head while I sleep – letting the knowledge seep in. Each lesson holds exercises for me to accomplish. And each lesson takes me a step further along a Path I have chosen to walk. Many others have walked this same Path, and their own individual experiences have provided to them lessons and experience that is unique to them. For, in the end, we can walk the same deer trod through the forest, but what we encounter is unique to our own steps on our own journey.

Sure, Victor can believe that he has purchased his own tradition in a box. But its really meaningless until he starts to do the work, walk the steps, learn the lessons, and bring all of that into his everyday life. Yes, adding all of this into your everyday life is important, at least in my own opinion. I tried to compartmentalize my mundane life from my own Spiritual practice. And failed miserably at both. I only had the footing for a single step. After that, I found myself scrambling to achieve a balance rather than living the life that I wanted to have. I do not proclaim myself to be a Pagan openly by wearing an “I am a Pagan” button everywhere that I go. I really do not need to. I am who I am. And when I started taking the lessons to heart, applying each one to my daily life – I had no need to struggle for a balance. I achieve it every morning that I step outside to greet the sun.

Victor will have that balance as well, even with his $44.95 Tradition-in-a-Box – provided he is willing to put in the hard work to learn the lessons and apply them to his life. The same goes for you; whoever might be reading this. Whether your lessons come via the post or done in a face-to-face learning situation – its the work that you, as an individual, put into learning, doing, and living your magickal life that matters most. And there is absolutely no substitute for that.

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….

I Have No Desire to be a “Helicopter Elder” – More Thoughts on Being an Elder in a Changing Pagan and Polytheist Community

Well, we have now come to the last of the topics I have culled from all my notes made at Many Gods West 2017. This last one, I have written about to various degrees already. But I thought it might be interesting to explore this from the perspective of Polytheism added to the Pagan slant that it builds on.

As the Elders of the Pagan community move on, our generation becomes the next Elders. What happens next? How do we nurture the younger generations to help facilitate the necessary change and growth within our varied Pagan communities??

I believe that the entire paragraph is worth looking at by each successive generation of Pagans and Polytheists as time progresses on. For me, this paragraph continues to underline that realization I had last year — being in the Pagan community to one degree or another since 1986, I have become an “Elder”. I certainly hope that I am not looked upon in that manner because I am unsure what it means to be an Elder, aside from the single descriptor of longevity. But honestly, that descriptive measure of time is a large part of what defines the concept of Elder or at least that’s what I have come to comprehend. But this is really not about wearing the “Elder cape” – it is about being helpful to others as they also grow on their own Paths.

First, Pagans are fairly independent folk. Needing nurturing or leadership is not necessary for many. Nor do they need to have someone tell them what they are or not. I watched this play out in a Pagan group when I was stationed in Germany. What was meant to be an umbrella group that encompassed many Pagan beliefs was perverted into being a “Wiccan” circle by one individual, who represented it in this manner to the Air Force chaplaincy at Ramstein Air Base. It made many people upset over the designation and drove a lot of people away from the group. Not all Pagans are Wiccans and that held true for the group. And it holds true here in the present day. So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do?

So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do? Well, I cannot speak from the perspective of anyone other than myself. And to be honest, if you ask five other Pagans this same question when we compare all the answers – we should have nine or ten ways to approach it. So, what I share comes solely from me….

I believe the best way to approach the idea is to encourage people to explore what they are experiencing but with caution. Sometimes, in exploring something, you can place yourself in a dangerous spot. Have someone that can be your anchor. Since my experiences with spirituality will differ from your own, most of the time, I cannot explain what is right or wrong in what you experience or the process that you undertake. I can provide examples of how I would do something, but that is merely how I would approach something.

So, in nurturing younger Pagans and Polytheists on how to move forward in their own Spirituality, I would be available to them to explain my processes, my experiences, and my methodologies. However, being available is different from trying to wedge my way into their practices. The well-worn saying of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” comes to mind. And I am not fond of the “teacher” part of this, as I see myself more as a mentor. I am there to provide advice, and if you trust me enough – I will even gladly be an anchor for you. I am not teaching as much as I am advising. It is still up to you to decide what to do, when, where, and how. For me, this is an ideal way to approach the concept of nurturing the growth of the younger generations of Pagans.

Perhaps, in the future, members of these younger generations of Pagan and Polytheists will step into roles of leadership, teaching, and being Elders, themselves. I certainly hope that I can serve as some kind of example for some of them, just as so many other Pagans and Polytheists out there will also serve as examples of leadership – both positive and negative examples. Yes, the infamous Pagan musician that gets arrested for child porn and has a sullied reputation throughout the wider Pagan community can serve as an example as well as a beloved writer, blogger, musician, Priest or Priestess does. Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for.

Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for. There is no police force for our community, other than ourselves. In order to help our younger Pagans and Polytheists have a safe environment to learn and experience within, as they make a choice of where they will go in their Spiritual growth; we need to know what to look for, as well as what to guard against. Furthermore, we need to also be careful that we do not wind up imitating the insane Witch Hunts of the 1980s that fueled a rabid evangelical Christian base to forcing non-Christians to submit to some aspect of a “character test” to prove they were “fit parents” according to their (the Christians) standards. There is a fine balance between protection and persecution – we (the Pagan community) should be cognizant of that measure, especially as our younger generations begin to come of age.

Honestly, I am not what I consider to be a “leader” of any sort. Emails, text messages, and conversations from many other people tend to prove me wrong on that point. I am not a Presidential figure that stands up and makes statements that every Pagan should hear about. That is one type of leadership. I am available for advice. I am available to just be an ear to bend for others. I am available to talk about my experiences within my Paganism and my Polytheism. I am available for hugs. I am available to stand between you and someone else, barring the way when you need shelter or protection. And while I consider all of that to just be “me being me” – I have come to recognize that it is a form of leadership as well. I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow.

I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow. I dream of a day where being a Pagan and/or Polytheist does not draw a negative stigmatism from the general public. Where being a Pagan or a Polytheist is just as accepted in the wider world society as being a Christian, an Atheist, an Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other faith tends to be. Where living a lifestyle where honoring the Gods openly is not seen as some sign of “mental illness or instability.” And that is not going to happen unless the younger generations to explore what being a Pagan means to them. They will eventually need someone to talk about their experiences, their theories on various subjects – and not be prejudged for what they think. For me, that happens when they are given the room to do just that….and I have no desire to become a “Helicopter Elder”.

All Means ALL

I don’t normally dig too deep into politics, or even into everyday events. Which is why you won’t hear me driving too deeply into the Charlottesville mess. At least not directly. Nor will I dig into Donnie’s responses and the lack-luster part of those responses. Because while politics of all kinds of levels touch my life – daily and otherwise – I refuse to let any of that tinge what I am or who I am. I don’t really care about race arguments, debates, and fights – not because I’m thrilled with being a white male with privilege. But because I refuse to join in on the label game. For me, people are people. We should all be treated equally – in life, how the law is applied to us, how we are taxed…what have you. We treat one another differently, in my opinion, because we are taught to do so. We are conditioned into a variety of ways to not only see differences between one another, but to also glorify those differences in any manner that we can.

I like to call this the “Us v. Them” complex. We want to be different than everyone else. We want to stand out. We want to be noticed immediately as being different. We want privilege to automatically apply because of those differences. Sometimes, we want to set the standard of what this or what that is. We want to be the epitome of that standard. Or we rebel against the standard by dressing differently, acting differently, talking differently. We want to create our own group where others cannot enter – particularly if they are not like us. We develop these cliques in high school, we continue to create cliques at our churches, our social functions, at work, in college – nearly everywhere we go. We look at those not like us with disdain. Who wants those people for friends? They aren’t the “right” people to be around me.

…and I have talked about this before. We label people. We place everyone into convenient containers that allow us to quickly determine what type of person that individual is or isn’t.

They wear all black clothing, dark lipstick, and makeup that makes their complexion look pale. They smoke clove cigarettes, and wear anklets or bracelets or collars adorned with spikes. Women like that have loose morals. Men like that are aggressive and just prefer to be violent all the time.

Nine Hells, if I followed that advice, which incidentally came directly from my late mother, I wouldn’t have half of the friends that I have now. And I would be missing out on some of the people that I treasure deeply in life today. All because I followed some inane labeling concept of what a person was or wasn’t. But I decided, back when I was in my late teens, that I just didn’t want to be in a world that was so monochrome. Painting people with a broad brush of stereotyping would get me nothing. I would miss out on the Punks that I became friends with. Or the Goths. Or the Preppy types. Or the Rednecks. Or the Loners. The Geeks. The Freaks. The Nerds. The Jocks. All because I let a set of labels and definitions divide me from them.

Sure, there are a few people that fit the stereotype and definitions associated with that. So what? Talking with these people allowed me to see a different side of the world. And you can change all of that into the racial labeling that goes on as well. If I had paid heed to why this person wasn’t worthy to talk to – I would have missed out on some very special friendships that I managed to work with.

Tony – whose name is changed here – was literally a card-carrying neo-Nazi skinhead when I met him. He never had a kind word for me. He even beat the smeg out of me one night. I had nearly given up on the concept of having a semi-intelligent conversation with him. But he eventually he stopped doing things, and asked what my deal was. See, no matter had happened the previous day, when I passed him in the dormitory hallway, I always said “good morning” to him. So, I asked him to come over to the end stairwell, and have a sit, a smoke (he smoked, I didn’t), and a conversation. We talked, we disagreed on a lot of things, we agreed on very few things. Five cigarettes later, we got up, shook hands and went different directions. The next four years there were lots of times to talk. We never changed one another’s minds. I cared about everyone regardless of skin color, he only cared about whites. Twenty-two years later, I ran into him in a bar called The Bomb Factory in Dallas. We talked a bit to catch up, and I asked about the racist attitude. “Dropped it,” he said. “Didn’t fit with what I turned into.” “What’s that?” I asked, literally on the edge of my bar stool. “I became a human being. Everybody’s gotta make their own way on this ball of dirt. You taught me that back at college.”

If I had heeded the labels and definitions that we create for ourselves and within society, I would never have had that conversation with Tony. Was I the one to change him? Nine Hells, no!! Tony changed himself. I only provided a different window for him to look out of. And I honestly doubt I would have ever made a difference, if I spent my time shouting at him, or trying to bash his skull in with my staff. People in Charlottesville didn’t want to talk…they wanted to shout over the other side. Loudest side wins, ya know??

Except that it doesn’t. Simple, plain discussion is what gets heard. REALLY gets heard. All of this started with the desire for the removal of Confederate statues. Absolutely. Let’s remove the statues. Let’s put these things into a museum, where they really belong. Where all of this can be noted for what it is – the adoration of a group of people that decided to step away from the union of the United States over a myriad of differences…the easiest of which to understand was the subjugation of people into a lower class based solely on the pigmentation of their skin. Its not the sole reason for the parting, and to truly understand the reasoning behind the Civil War is a complex, difficult thing. But overt racism was one of those reasons. And there were those that adored these leaders of the Confederacy for just that reason. These statues are the proof of that.

Much like the concentration camps of World War II are still open to the public to tour…these statues need to be set somewhere in a museum so that we don’t forget. Not that we don’t forget who these men were, and what they stood for, but rather for what the statues came to symbolize as our country got further and further from the Civil War. And in that same museum needs to be statues of those who fought for equal rights. Equal rights for blacks. Equal rights for women. Equal rights for all. Because that is the struggle that I keep thinking today is losing the sight of. Instead  of fighting the Civil War all over again….let’s change the narrative to fighting for equality for all. So let’s keep one set of labels:

ALL: which means everyone.

Human Beings:  which replaces all the racial, gender, etc etc labels out there and applies to ALL [see first label].

#TwoPence

Relationships with the Gods are Unique…and Complicated

I attended Many Gods West 2017 a very short while back. Most of that came from pushing by Crow, as well as my own desire to try a Pagan-oriented conference that was geared around a specific area of topical interest, rather than the massive general interest that a much larger conference such as Pantheacon generates. I came away from MGW with nearly two dozen writing prompts, much of which came as questions that came to mind during various presentations.

For me, each one of the prompts that I gathered are direct confrontations to how I am practicing my own polytheism with my triad of Deities:  Coyote, Crow and Flidais. Each of these Three present differing approaches to daily Life for me, and at the same time – together They are a part of my connection to all that is around me. My relationship with each of Them is unique, and singular. I say prayers to Them, as well as other Gods and Goddesses that I have no specific ties to, seeking guidance in what is becoming a more troubled and difficult world.

In what turned out to be a more physical presentation than I thought, “Embodied Practice and Devotion” had all of us in guided focus over feeling aspects of our own physical bodies. Controlled breathing, singular awareness of parts of the body, general awareness concerning various specified inputs and perspectives – none of which was terribly new to me. However, toward the end of the presentation, discussion was opened to the participants and part of that turned towards the idea of devotional surrender, a concept I have never really entertained prior to that moment.

From my notebook:

  • Devotional surrender versus Personal Sovereignty

    • Should we surrender completely to our Gods?

    • Should we bargain limitations with our Gods?

      • Does this limit who They are in our lives?

      • By not pushing our boundaries, are we limiting who we are as individuals?

A lot of this was difficult to work directly with at that particular moment. However, now back at home – in territory that is far more familiar to me, where I can let down my emotional shields that I carry publicly as an introvert – I am now starting with this particular writing point to start looking at my direct relationship with my little Triad.

So, probably the best place to start is to try and define these concepts, starting with devotional surrender and personal sovereignty. To be particular honest, I am not at all interested in the common definitions of the two terms, but rather in how these definitions work out for me. This means that you – the person who has decided to click on this blog post and read it – may define these terms radically different than I do. Frankly, that’s great. What it means is that you will probably come to far different conclusions than I do. And that’s great too. I am not looking for a fight or argument over the difference in our definitions or in our approaches. I don’t mind a discussion over all of that, because it helps me to see some of the cloudier areas in all of this. But I am not interested in a “my way or the highway” approach to discussing differences either. And with that out of the way, let’s dive into how I approach these two points.

The easier of the two, for me, is personal sovereignty. What this boils down to is that I am in control of things where I am concerned. My approaches to the Gods are mine. What Crow, Coyote or Flidais may ask of me, I have the ability to say “no” or “that’s a line too far for me.” The same goes for anything that is asked of me or told to me by any individual. I am in control of me – to the best of my ability. Yeah, its a simplistic definition, but it works for me in terms of this blog post.

Devotional surrender, on the other hand, is a bit more problematic for me. Mostly because I have never entertained this concept before. As I understood the concept from the panel, this can go from terms of following the commands and wishes of one’s Gods without question and follow all the way through something akin to being possessed physically by one’s Gods. For me, that’s an exceptionally wide area, but all of that does seem to fit into the entire concept. Plus, as I ponder over this, I feel that I may already work within some aspects of this already.

During a different panel, I related my bond to Crow. I am a Priest of Crow. Crow has already provided various tasks for me. But as I noted during the panel, I am free to question, and I am free to say “no”. If I am drawing the limitations on what is asked of me by Crow, am I limiting my relationship with Him? I do believe John Beckett once noted in a blog post of his own, that while we can say “no” to the Gods – that may be a moment where They choose to take far less interest in us as individuals. Certainly a risk that comes with that.

Prior to Crow, I worked exclusively with Coyote. Coyote was fond of giving my tasks to complete where I wound up looking like a fool when I finished each one. I knew I was working with a Trickster, so I tried to be patient through it all. After about nineteen or twenty of these tasks designed to make me look foolish, I went into a meditation looking for a confrontation. Frankly, I was pissed off at being made a fool. During my interaction, I asked why I was being made a fool. “You make yourself the fool,” was the response. If I am being made the fool, then why in the Nine Hells would you want to work with me? After the laughter subsided, Coyote noted that I was the fool for not asking questions. “I actually wanted to see if you possessed a spine” was the final response.

With Crow, I utilized some of this in my interactions with Him. Like Coyote, questioning was implied, but on a far shorter leash. I have had a few interactions where I have made the statement that I will have to think about whether I would do as asked. “Let me think about that” usually receives a terse reply of “do not take too long.” So, I do bargain with Crow. And sometimes I do try to bargain a limitation. But I have never entertained the idea that I might be limiting my relationship with Crow by doing so. Perhaps, by setting my own boundaries of what I can or am willing to do, I am changing the relationship that I have with Crow. But perhaps not too much.

I do see the Gods as beings that are far beyond my own personal comprehension. But I also see my relationship with the Gods to be somewhat similar to relationships that I have with other human beings. There are people that I would literally do anything for. Some of them know this, some of them don’t. There are others where I am willing to things for, but only up to a certain point. My relationship with them is not nearly as strong. My relationship with Crow is stronger than the one I have with Coyote. There are far more things I would do in service to Crow than I would in service to Coyote. That’s because the relationships are different. And my relationship with Flidais is far weaker than with the other Two. Our relationship is just barely over two years in age. In many ways, we are start in the flirtation stage.

I do not think that I have really changed too much of my opinion on whether boundaries, limitations or bargaining lessen a relationship with my Gods. Perhaps, if I had a more demanding God or Goddess, it would be a bit of a hinderance or even a point where my relationship with one of Them may cease. As for devotional surrender, I believe it really depends on which end of that spectrum may be in play, as to whether I would agree that it was a good idea or not. Allowing personal possession has an uncomfortable feeling to it, and crosses a lot of line with me in my own concept of personal sovereignty. Regardless, I still believe that my relationship with the Gods and Goddesses, particularly my Three, is a unique to me – and there may come a time when I will have to explore this aspect of devotional surrender to an ultimate extreme at some other time. Because relationships are unique…and complicated.