Category Archives: Two Pence

Going Beyond

Being a teacher can be a tough and somewhat thankless job. For nearly three years, I was an adjunct professor at the community college, where I now work in the administration for. I both dreaded and enjoyed teaching students about information systems and the uses these seemingly perplexing machines have in our society today. I enjoyed explaining how data-driven queries and algorithms actually have a major effect on people’s lives, even when they did not really comprehend that such processes were being placed in how their lives were being lived. However, I also dreaded being in the classroom because I always had a fear that a student might actually be able to showcase their knowledge having gone further than my own. Looking back, I had such a silly notion in that area.

A few weeks ago, the silliness of that notion was on display in the newest Star Wars film. During the dialogue between Yoda and Luke at the Jedi Temple, Luke laments that he cannot be what Rey needs, and Yoda responds:

…we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters. –Yoda

My fears were truly unfounded. Should a student find a mastery of the topic that went beyond where I was, it should be a joyful moment. I have poured all of my knowledge and wisdom (a truly debatable term for another time) into my student, in the hopes that they will grow beyond the point that I have managed to reach. The goal is not my vanity and ego as being the font of be-all, end-all knowledge. Because, in all honesty, I continue to grow my own mastery and understanding of the knowledge as I, myself, progress in this existence.

In a manner of speaking, a teacher is considered to also be a leader. The expertise and mastery of an area of knowledge, as well as their wisdom (there’s that word again), places a teacher in a position of potentially leading others. There’s a similar area of responsibility in the hands of the follower, who provides a connection to that leader by allowing that architecture to be placed in the individual (or individuals in the case of larger groups with more than one individual placed in a role of leadership). That dual-feed of the teacher providing information, knowledge, and wisdom, and a student placing their trust and faith in an individual or individuals to lead them correctly can be a very wonderful relationship with the right degree of trust and responsibility coming from both ends of it. To quote from many places, it truly is a manner of perfect love and perfect trust. Too much or too little from either side, and it can be a corrosive and/or abusive relationship (another deer trod to travel down at some other point).

What about flawed individuals? People who have done bad or unsavory things when they were in these positions of teaching or leadership? We need to toss everything they have taught us and start fresh with a better perspective, right? Or we need to abandon that particular Path of knowledge because we placed a leader into a position of being far more than what we should have. Our reasoning for following them is flawed; therefore, everything we learned is flawed, right?

I would say that is not necessarily the case. We do need to stop, look back, and re-evaluate everything. But that is by taking everything one piece at a time, determining what value that bit of knowledge has to us, and then making a decision to keep it, alter it to our needs, or pitch it all together. Plus, I have one another thing to consider: every single one of us is flawed in one manner or another. A significant majority of us has done something wide of the mark in our past to one degree or another. However, before we all start feeling guilty about all the stuff we did when we were teenagers or in our early twenties, let’s consider one other side of Yoda’s statement to Luke in that same scene:

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. –Yoda

We have all met failure to one degree or another. We all have weaknesses (one of mine just happens to be Bushmills whiskey). And I would daresay that we have all done wrong by someone or many someones at one time or another. The true measure of these incidents in our lives is not what we did, but rather if we have grown beyond those transgressions.

I am a firm believer in second chances. I am also a firm believer that knowledge can grow and become stronger from places where most others would see rot and decay. Time, patience, and so many other elements are important factors to add. Or as I am fond of saying, x and y are important variables, but their strength in the overall argument can dissipate or grow due to the variance of the z-variable (typically referred to as “time”).

As we, Pagans, continue to grow our knowledge and our various traditions, we stand on the shoulders of giants, as Damh the Bard notes in his song “On the Shoulders of Giants”:

So by peace and love we stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand,
On the shoulders of giants we stand.

We stand on the shoulders of our Elders, our teachers, our leaders – growing our traditions for the coming generations so that our shoulders they will also stand upon – a mighty foundation. Over time, our foundations can wear down, from the equalizer of time, as well as other factors. But even that weathered stone has merit. It may not look as pretty and polished as it did in a time long past, but it is still there. Over time, we may found out that our Elders, teachers, and leaders have done things in their lives that we find to be unsavory or even difficult to comprehend. None of that nullifies the knowledge that was brought to us. Because it is not the individual that provides the legacy, but the knowledge itself. A founding member of a tradition can be found to have done unspeakable, unimaginable things in their lives. None of those actions can nullify the beauty, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, loving attitude, and joyful care that the Priests (men and women – I believe Priest to be a gender-neutral term) in that same tradition have today and what the future Priests will bring as they receive their ordination. I just cannot condemn or color what a tradition is because of the actions of one individual…even a founding member.

As for me, I have my own transgressions in my past that haunt me. No matter how much I want to wipe those away with notations of second chances or excuses, I will live with those for the rest of my life – however long that may be. For those that know what those are, I can only hope that they see the change in who I am today versus that person I was previously. For those that I wronged, and have been able to apologize to, I can only hope that they have forgiven me and accepted those apologies. For those that I cannot make apologies to, for whatever reason, I can only continue to offer my apologies when I pray. And yes, even Pagans pray. And while those transgressions do paint a tone to who I am today; for any future students I have, any followers who may provide me with the reins of some form of leadership — those failures helped me to learn and try to be a better teacher and leader. And through those experiences, as I continue to move further along this nearly thirty-five years on a Pagan Path, I hope that I become the Elder that the Gods have aimed me towards being. After all, I am fallible — like anyone else.

Advertisements

I am “Woke” – Just Not in the Way You Might Assume

Early in 2017, I started hearing a concept that I had not heard since the first release of the movie “The Matrix” — being ‘woke’. Back in 1999, it referred to the status of human beings like the main character Neo, who had been removed from their connection to the Matrix environment created by the machines, and were now aware of the true reality of the Earth and human beings. However, the term was not being used in that context, and seemingly meant something different. Being curious about it, I decided to try and find a definition of what this new terminology might mean. Eventually, I found that it applied to some of the aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement, but had been branching into other areas from there. A quick check of Urban Dictionary found a handful of descriptives:

  • A state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.
  • Although an incorrect tense of awake, a reference to how people should be aware of current affairs.
  • Knowing what is going on in the community.
  • Being completely deranged, hysterical and seeing racism/oppression in virtually everything.
  • Being aware of the social. and political environments regarding all demographics and socio-economic standings.

…and the list goes on and on. Utilizing Urban Dictionary’s perspectives, being “woke” aims towards political and socio-economic statuses, being aware of how various aspects of society press against a perceived state of equality for all.

Now, most folks know, I have my own political stance in life. It bleeds through in everything I do – blogging, talking, working, reading – because it is part of who I am and what I believe. I hold no allegiance to either of the major parties within the United States. Rather, I see validity on both sides of that equation, as well as what I consider to be idiocy from both sides as well. Thus, I hold no party affiliation, as neither of the two major parties – or even the smaller third-parties for that matter – really speak to how I perceive the world around me. I have been told that my non-affiliated stance only means that I am not seeing the world as it should be – by both staunch Republicans and Democrats that I know. To be honest, I am not arrogant enough to believe that what I perceive and what I believe is correct for anyone else, other than myself. And here in the United States, I am merely one of many, all with different and sometimes diametrical opposed ideas of how to proceed and/or process concepts and information.

Perhaps I am not “woke” in the area of politics and socio-economic standards as provided by other “woke” individuals. However, I am very cognizant of the social under-currents within society. I am also aware of how the laws, as applied by some corrupt and morally bankrupt members of law enforcement, can be utilized as a hammer against certain aspects of human society. I am also aware of how our current political system is being utilized by a few to construct a potential society of upper-class individuals that meet a certain requirement of enrollment that subjugates others to work for their benefit alone. Yelling and ranting about it on Facebook, and on Twitter, from my perspective, does very little about the issue – thus I tend to hide political sites, and individuals that tend to post nothing but politics and social memes railing in this manner. Perhaps, that means that I am not “woke” by someone else’s standards. So be it. But then again, I do not live my life for the approval of others.

Sounds rather heartless, right? I can grok that perspective. But if all you know about me is this screed that I am posting here, and you make a final judgment on who I am and what I believe – you are not digging deep enough. If you go back far enough in this blog, you will find posts where I disdain the concept of labeling people. That applies here as well. Essentially, society tends to fall to a grouping of people into two categories: “Us” and “Them”.  The “Us” crowd, we are comfortable with, we grok their perspective, and their ideals line up and fit quite nicely with our own. The “Them” crowd is to be resisted, attacked, and belittled as much as we can. In wars, human beings do this all the time. The Japanese were considered inferior because they could only copy what had been created, not create on their own. The Germans were vilified as blood-thirsty fighters who mindlessly followed their leader towards world domination. All Germans hated the Jews and were thrilled to have the concentration camps around to rid them of these sub-humans. And lists like this can be compiled from the annals of History. The reality is that there were many people in Japanese society who were/are creative and can create new materials. Most of the German citizenry had no idea what was happening within the concentration camps and were horrified to find out the truth when the war unraveled for them. Plus, there were those Germans who tried to find a way to save as many people as they could from being arrested by the Gestapo – risking their own lives to do so. Painting with a broad-brush of generalizations is a lazy way to deal with people who have differences from your own.

So, I will divulge one secret about me. And it is not really a secret, I just do not talk about it that much on social media. I loathe the concepts of ethnic labeling that occurs within our society. The Grants system within the collegiate environments in America is rife with this concept. Entire aspects of funding collegiate education are built around characteristics of race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, and even age. The idea is to “level” the playing field between the “haves” and have-nots”. I get that. I would rather that we fund people’s collegiate education based on the needs of our work-force rather than these factors. I do realize that there are Grants and funding centered around just these things, but I would rather categorize people by their desired field of endeavor than by things such as their gender and skin color. I would prefer to classify people as “human beings” rather than “Black, White, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, International, and Multi-race.” But again, I am just one person. And these classifications are mandated by the Federal government.

Being “woke” tends to be focused on how one perceives and/or agrees with whatever perspective of the individual judging the perspective “woke” person. Again, I do not live my life for the accolades applied by others. I am a Pagan, a Polytheist, and a Druid. I am a Priest of Crow. How I live my life is determined by me. Under the ‘woke” definition from Urban Dictionary is the notations of “how people should be aware of current affairs”, “knowing what is going on in the community”, and “being aware of the social. and political environments regarding all demographics and socio-economic standings.” From my own perspective, I feel that I absolutely do fulfill these aspects of the various definitions. Perhaps, the problem with being labeled as “woke” does not come from any particular meaning of the term, but rather whether your understanding of the issues relating to community, political, and socio-economic standards is in conjunction with the individual labeling you as such. To that, I can only smile to the individual that claims that I am not “woke” and move along. If I am perceived as not being “in-tune” with how politics effects me or how it affects others…that’s all right. If you have ever heard me sing, I’m definitely off-key.

#TwoQuid

–T /|\

Diving Deeply – Attempting a Different Approach at Learning

 

Crossposted at Moon Books Blogs at:  http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/?p=4393-2
With the coming change from one calendar year to another, there is always the desire to look back and place judgment on what was and was not accomplished in one’s last twelve months. There are all kinds of desires, goals, and needs that people try to attach to their lives – mostly specific, some more generic. We want to lose weight, stop cussing, make more money, get a better job, find true and everlasting love, eat healthier, do better rituals, cast stronger spells, become more of an activist for whatever cause we deem worthy (whatever that means), and the lists can go on and on. But we tend to find many of these “promises” to be shallow. Most of them are forgotten in a few weeks, as we settle back into routines that we have carefully cultivated over many years. And maybe that is the primary key to all of this – the planting, care-taking, and growth of routines that emphasize and strengthen the goals that we want to have. This was a thought process I started a few months back, around the time of Samhain – the time frame that I consider the true turning of the wheel. Over the last (approximately) sixty days, I have been tweaking various aspects of my life, trying to tune into where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to get there.
It is no secret that I work in a data-related field at a small two-year college in north Texas. One of my desires was to integrate lower-cost tools into my daily work practice, in order to provide more data-driven results to upper management, which would help them make better decisions that could potentially derive more successful results for the college as a whole. My choice of tool to learn has been R, a statistical processing application that can be utilized for a lot of different things. My experience with it, thus far, has been minimal. Mostly because I had very little idea of how to apply it to my everyday work. I needed to get a deeper understanding of what R was, what it was capable of, and then attempting to apply those techniques to my everyday work.
 
Another facet of my daily life that I have been working is my Ovate Grade work within the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I am only a few lessons in and already frustrated by the lack of progress I have made. My original intention was to move along using a calendar-based technique – where each lesson took (x) number of days. I found that I had severely underestimated the time frame necessary to work with what I had. And I broke a vow to myself not to restart the process of these lessons, and have reverted back to my first lessons. However, before I started, I decided to take the opportunity to try a different approach. I decided to go deeper into what I was learning and forget about the “how long” approach. However long it takes, is however long it will take.
 
In these sixty days, I started looking at my own concept of goals for both of these centers of knowledge. With the R material, I realized fairly quickly that I had unrealistic expectations of how I was and how quickly I could assimilate new knowledge. I needed to scrap everything I knew (and loathed) about statistical methodologies, strip it all down to the basic essentials, and rebuild from that point. As I am a very visual learner, I started to flowchart how I would get to where I needed to be to use R in a very basic sense. There are no waypoints in terms of time. It only took a few days to realize what a trap that was, and how that would only set me up for failure. I have a goal of learning R and putting it to practical use within my daily job routines. Whether that happens in March of 2018, 2019 or 2025 makes no difference to me. It is putting it to practical use within my job skillsets that matters to me. This is not a race against the clock, rather this is a desire to learn, grow, and mature a new technology and process into my world.
 
Once I managed to realize this for R, putting this into a format for my approach to my Ovate studies was fairly easy. The material is different, the application is different, but the overall sentiment is essentially the same. I wish to learn the Ovate material to improve my knowledge as a Druid utilizing the framework of OBOD. Through that knowledge, I will also improve my connection to the environment around me, as well as the environments beyond this physical one. My desire is to be the best Druid and Priest that I can be. There is no timeframe for this, merely a need to keep my desire to learn, grow and mature on this Path fed as it should be. 
 
With those formats in place, written out in my two journals that will serve as the records of what I learn and how I grow, I have spent the past few days resting from that effort and thinking about my plans – as well as what resources I will need to help me along the way. I would be foolish to think I could undertake this completely alone. There places on the internet that I can go to seek help with any R-related issue I encounter. In my Druidry studies, there are a handful of OBOD members that I could go to ask questions of. In both cases, I do not expect either of them to provide the answers to me for any of those questions. Furthermore, I have plenty of books from authors whose opinions I respect highly (many of whom have published with Moon Books), as well as magazines such as “Pagan Dawn”, where I can read articles on a variety of subjects that can also be helpful to my approach. With all of that said, let’s face a small reality, shall we?
 
No one is ever going to hand you anything in life. You want something, you are going to have to do the work associated with it. I want to learn R and use it heavily in my workplace. I will have to learn the programming language that governs it, as well as how to apply the R application to solve problems in the work environment, as well as understanding what problems it will be useful in solving, and which it would be inappropriate for. There will be no R Angel or Demon on my shoulder telling me what to try and not try. I am going to have to figure all that out on my own, through trial and error. By doing, observing, and failing. 
 
The same can be said for any aspect of my Spirituality. How I approach Paganism, Polytheism and Druidry are my own. Even if I do not choose to approach any of that. The decision of how, where, why, and when is my own. And with Crow in my life, I have to add one more thought to this:  should you feel the calling of a God or Goddess pulling you towards Their service, cajoling you towards Priesthood….remember this: if you accept, you are accepting the sole responsibility of the workload that will be expected of you. being called to be a Pagan or a Polytheist and be reverent of the Gods is one thing. Being pulled into the service of a God or Goddess is another matter altogether.
 
This is merely my opinion, but if all you are into something – a degree, a certificate program, a Spiritual training regimen – is for the piece of paper that acknowledges your effort towards completing assignments, tasks, classes, etc., then you are approaching it with the wrong frame of mind. Don’t get me wrong, I have two Masters degrees and a Bachelors degree, along with two (and in February, the third and final certification) professional certifications from a state-acclaimed organization for Institutional Researchers. The accolade you receive is a wonderful thing, and something to be celebrated, but it should never shadow the knowledge you gained from the classes, assignments, and training you received. For instance, the OBOD training program I am currently in has three levels – Bard, Ovate and Druid. I finished Bard. I am working on Ovate. I have a desire to finish Ovate, and work and finish my Druid level as well. But I also have to take into account that I may find that I have no need to finish Ovate and/or Druid. That wherever I manage to reach may be enough knowledge for me to be who I am. I certainly hope that’s not the case, but it is a possibility. And if it becomes a reality, I will be fine and content with that moment. But that’s not where I am at this moment. My goal is to finish. When?  I am not completely sure, but I am willing to work towards it and look forward to figuring that as I move forward.
The processes I have outlined are what works for me. I derived a lot of this from another concept called “diving deeply,” where an individual immerses themselves in the learning process for a technique, tool or skillset. My desire here is to make learning and using R as a part of my daily workflow, so that I can determine what works well for what I do on a daily basis, as well as what does not. My Ovate grade progression will also become a part of my daily routine, utilizing free-time at work, as well as time before and after my daily work. I am not going to just do the lessons and move on, I am going to take a few steps further – finding ways to implement some of the lessons as daily routines within my life. Some will find permanence in my life, some won’t. But I won’t know which is which until I try.
If you decide to give some aspect of this a try and it works for you….please teach it to others. For some, it may not work or be useful. Everybody learns differently. I am an “expert” on what does and does not work for me, and I hope that this methodology will prove useful for me so that I can add it to my own toolbox. But the only way you will find out if it does or does not work for you – is to try it. And whether it does or does not work for you, I hope that it does enlighten you in one way or another.
–T /|\

 

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.

 

Leadership is About Sharing Experiences – At Least in My Opinion

I have written a few times about the concepts of leadership, but to be honest – I have always thought it silly for a solo Pagan, like myself, to speak on things like this. My connections within the Pagan community are slight. Much like the title of the old podcast, my area falls more to the edges than anywhere else. Not only am I more comfortable out on the periphery, its almost as if I have been called to be here.

Back in the 1990s, while I was in the United States Air Force, I stepped up to the idea of being a leader in the community. I tried to help with the leadership of the local Kaiserslautern military Pagan community. What I found in doing this was that more people were willing to complain and criticise than those willing to roll up their sleeves and help do the work. And that winds up being a real turn-off to me. So, once I left the United States Air Force and came back to the United States to live my life as a civilian – I choose to be solo. But not after another attempt at being a part of a local community – and what would be the last chance I would give Wicca to be what I needed in my life. But that is a post for another time and topic.

So, I dove deep into being a solo Pagan. I continued to follow the Wheel of the Year in my daily life. And while I never hid the fact that I was a Pagan, I surely did not advertise the fact either. And I discovered a lot about myself during this time. I was not a leader. Working on my own was more effective for me. Wicca was definitely not the Path for me. The Nordic Path had no pull for me to follow. And I was not interested in reconstructing any older belief or practice. And all of that was true, with the exception of the first two statements.

When you are on your own, and there are no effective means of communicating with others, your concept of leadership comes down to a single person – yourself. I can deny my ability to be a leader in crafting my response through my desire to not be a leader. But that desire is not because I lack the ability to provide leadership in anything I do. It comes from my fear of being out front, where others look to what I have to say or do, as an example of what they can try on their own. And at the age of 52, I can literally say that I have been running from leadership since my late teens. And that is certainly a long time. It has colored a lot of the way I handle myself in other situations. I have developed patterns of an introvert as defense mechanisms to insulate myself with ready-made excuses.

I was never ready to be considered a leader in anything. I have always looked at leadership as being some modicum of control over others. My libertarian streak inside of me informs my perspective that only an individual can be the leader of themselves. We make our individual choices on our own. We decide what is right and wrong for our own individual selves. A leader does not have to be manipulative and controlling. In fact, I would posit that such actions are not perspectives of leadership whatsoever. Leadership is not about grooming others to be what you expect them to be but helping them to become what they are. The individual chooses the direction that they wish to go; the leader helps find ways to assist in the growth of that person. Sure, there are many other definitions of what a leader is or is not. Ask a group of ten people for a definition of a leader, and you’re likely to get fifteen different answers.

Over the past ten years, I have slowly brought myself back into the Pagan community. Through the podcasts, the blog, going to local events, going to not-so-local events…and rarely have I interjected myself into the concept or perspective of being a leader. Most of the events I have attended have had very well defined perspectives of leadership. Some folks were well suited to be leaders, others not-so-much (in my opinion). With the podcasts and the blog, my “voice” tends to be given a position of authority and credence that I don’t normally attribute to myself. But in both instances, whether I agree with it or not, I stepped into a role of leadership. And I do have to provide ownership of what I write and say in both areas – after all, I did say it.

Whether I completely agree with it or not, I have been a leader to many folks. No one should be following me into the woods just because that is where I am going. But some folks have asked about what type of gear I am carrying into the woods with me and then creating their own group of items to carry with themselves when they go into the woods. Sometimes, their items have stuff that I took, sometimes it doesn’t…and most likely, it has stuff that I never thought about. In the end, we learn from sharing our experiences. And in a manner of speaking, this is the kind of leadership I see myself providing.

All of this has gotten me to think even more about what happens going forward. Certainly, I will keep blogging about my experiences. Here shortly, the podcast will get moved forward and back into gear. Both of those platforms allow me to share my experiences, as well as the experiences of others. And through that sharing, my libertarian heart says that we will all be able to make better choices for ourselves. We can find the level of comfort that we have in our communities and develop the roles that we should each be filling. And in that manner, we become leaders – in our own definitions of what that means.

And while it is a pretty dream that might never be achieved – simply because we apply this theory to the fallibility of human beings — I am willing to dream that dream. And reach for it as well.

Prototyping Pagans – I just Cannot Bring Myself to Do That

There are times I really struggle to find things to write about….and then out of the blue, a topic will just fall from the sky. Well, sort of. I was wandering through Facebook and came across a status from author and blogger Cat Treadwell. It went along these lines:  If you could provide an image of what being a Pagan was like to a non-Pagan, what would you want that to convey?? So, with some interest in this…I decided to pick up the concept and give it a shot.

Ever built an archetype before? A construct of something you wanted to convey a concept of “average, every day” whatever?? Yeah, it sounds easy, but it certainly is not. What would I want a non-Pagan to see as the typical Pagan? I would look for someone who is strong in what they are and what they believe. Lauren N., John Beckett, Ember, Cat, Chris Godwin, Cyn, Jon Drum, Byron….all strong people, strong personalities – the type of strength I would want to convey in what a Pagan is. Rachel, Morgan, Joanna – their wonderful, beautiful approaches to all aspects of ritual. Kristoffer Hughes, Frank M., Gabrielle, Lorraine, Kathleen, Jacob…Pagans that can find humor and mirth in everyday life like no one else I know. Damh, Shauna, Bran, and so many other musicians and artists that I have been so blessed to meet and befriend – all examples of how their Paganism and personalities shine through in their artistic endeavors. David T., Richard, Art, Patrick M. – the storytellers, who can spin a tale, recite a poem, and stir the coals within your heart. How do I take these folks, and so many others and spin them into an archetypal Pagan?

Or do I even want to? Honestly, the only true way to experience the aspects that each embodies in this mythical, archetype of a Pagan is to spend time with each of them. To experience who they are, what they believe, and how the lines between all of that get blurred to make these beautiful people that I am lucky enough to have met, talked with, and experienced. And some of them are truly whirlwind experiences that cannot be described.

So how in the Nine Hells can I build this archetypal Pagan? What meaning and message and imagery would I want to convey to this equally mythical non-Pagan? Pagans, clothed and unclothed, looking wild in their unflinching embrace of Nature and a multitude of Gods and Spirits. Naked and frolicking in the woods. Partying with the animals into the wee hours of the dark-skies of the morning…. No. That is not fair imagery. It is a stereotype. And one designed to be as unfair to Pagans anywhere.

How about an image from earlier this year? The ADF Imbolc Retreat in the south Texas hill-country? I pulled up to the location in my F150 pickup truck. There were cars, SUVs, and trucks of various types, makes and years. Just like any parking lot outside a local mall anywhere in the United States. People came to the evening ritual in what would be described as their “ritual garb” or in some quarters as their Ren Faire gear. But others came to the rituals in their t-shirts and jeans. Wearing work boots, tennis shoes, flip-flops, and even barefoot.

As much as I would like to be able to walk down the street – point to someone and proclaim them as a Pagan because of the way they dress, the way they act, the color of their hair or….whatever. I just can’t. Because Pagan folk look just like anyone else. And like anyone else that has a sense of belief – Pagans believe in what they believe. And the vast differences between what precisely they believe in, and what they don’t is just as different as the clothing they wear every day of the week.

So what is a “typical” Pagan? Is there a secret handshake? Some twinkle in the eye? Some secret code?? Most of the people I know believe in a multitude of Gods, Goddesses, Spirits – and have a strong reverence for their Ancestors. I can’t really say that any of them are truly typical. They are unique people, all with their individual strengths and faults. And I would not want a single thing about any of them changed whatsoever. I cherish the individual connections I have with each of them. Taken together, they are an interesting (at least to me) rabble of differing opinions, perspectives, and directives.

Is there a typical Pagan among them? Some prototype that I can use to measure others against? No. And why in the Nine Hells would I want to measure any of them against another? I remember faux competitions like that from my time in the Southern Baptist wing of the Christian community. Who was more “on fire for Jesus”? Who had the stronger connection to Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit?? I am sorry, but I do not handle faith in that manner. And honestly, I do not think any of my friends do either. Spiritual belief is not some contests that happen on Sundays. If you are looking for that, there are NFL games on the TV every Sunday; perhaps that is what you were seeking.

A typical Pagan? Sadly, I do not think I can produce one of those. But come spend some time with me, I will be happy to introduce you to some really exceptional people that just happen to be Pagan. To my mythical non-Pagan individual, if you want to know what your typical Pagan is like….just like anyone else. There is no special dress code. No special handshake. No secret knock that you need to perform at the door. Your average Pagan is no different than anyone else. What makes them Pagan is individual to each of them. And like any human being on this planet, getting to know them as individual human beings will be the truest measuring stick that you have in determining who they are.

 

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