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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow It Down…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#JustSayin’

Thinking on Virtues

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

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

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

Common Ground

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

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

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

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

Thinking Out Loud

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

My Chosen Virtues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming to a Close

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

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

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

References

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

There is Just Life

“There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ life. There is just ‘life’.”

This quote is in a favorite movie of mine, as well as one of my favorite TV shows of all-time. The movie is “Tombstone” with a dying Doc Holliday reminding his friend Wyatt Earp that life is something you grab by the lapels. The TV show is Babylon 5, where Michael Garibaldi is lamenting to his wife that he merely wants a “normal” life, and this quote is her retort that she throws back in his face. Both are continually reminders about how life should be lived, as I see it.

Turn on the television, flip to a news channel, pick one, and all you will get is a steady stream of bad this or bad that. Because misery and fear sell. Ask any network security specialist and they will give you the basic 411. To sell a product, you don’t need to sell what it precisely does. Rather you need to sell the fear of what MIGHT happen if you do not have their product or services. Once you have the customer fearful, you have them ready to buy into what you are trying to get them to throw their money at.

Why do the networks continue to pander to the bad things that are happening? Mostly because it really what is happening. Granted, there are good things that happen throughout the world. However, the continually harping on the bad stuff locks in viewers. They want the fear. They want to hear about the bad. And in our current environment, they want to get into that anger, that despair, that disillusionment. Let’s face it, negative emotions are extremely powerful and very easy to access.

There are lots of Polytheists that have felt and heard the clarion call of the Gods concerning the rising Storm. I have been there too. Both Coyote and Crow have made a small focus on being there for others, and being steadfast and true in my daily Path. But the focus is not a giant spotlight. My role is not for the front line of all the issues that are there. My role is more of a support function, trying to help others not focus on the negative at all times. And yet, I continually hear that lament for that elusive “normal” life.

Yes, the Storm is here. Watch the news. You’ll see. If you are perceptive to magickal energies, you will likely feel the unease that permeates the environment around us. I can, and I am not particularly perceptive in that fashion. Just because all that negativity is so readily available does not mean that we have to bathe in it in every moment. I would submit that we need to find those positive moments in our daily lives, seize those energies, and try to focus that into our own lives. Truly, not an easy task, to be sure.

So, how to go about helping yourself to reach that positive side? First things first, turn off the damned news. Pick a particular time, say about an hour or so, on one or two days of the week, and watch the news then. Trust me, its all going to be there when you turn on the device. None of it is going to go away. Second, and probably far more important, grounding and centering should be a primary practice in your life. I am not one for providing be-all, end-all mandates in other folks’ spiritual lives, but on this, I come pretty close.

I have heard and practiced many ways of grounding and centering. I have a few techniques that I use, but my favorite is an OBOD Tree Meditation that I ran across on YouTube. For me, it is simple, easy to utilize, easy to visualize (even if you have no trees nearby), and super effective. You can find the video located here.

My job can become a hot mess very, very quickly. Lots of competing demands and changing priorities can knock me off my balance quite easily. When I lose that balance, I know that I need to find some time to center and ground myself. The tree meditation that I have linked above can be easily done at my desk. I don’t need to move my arms in the manner that the video depicts, nor do I need to stand. I merely need to visualize things in my mind until I find that balance I am seeking to achieve. When things are particularly difficult, and I cannot find that balance easily, I can take a quick break and head outside of the building to any location where benches are located. Most of these locations have trees there, and I find it quite relaxing to just sit for a few minutes and focus on the sound of the breeze filtering through the leaves.

Meditations do not need to be difficult things. You are not going to become an ultra-yogi-guru-shaman-type overnight. In fact, you might never reach that level ever in this lifetime. And that’s really “ok”. You just need to be what you need at that moment. Seriously, if you are undertaking your own Spiritual Path so that you could become exactly like some other person, you might be on your Path for the wrong reasons. Just be you. It really can be just that simple.

I have seen the meme that says that “normal” is a setting on the dryer. I cannot agree more. “Normal” is such an ambiguous term. The meaning of what is “normal” is usually different from one person to another. Even a single person can have different aspects of “normal” depending on settings, situations, and other not readily observable variables. So why do we always wish for a “normal” life when the life we have is exactly what it is? I do not need my life to be like anyone else’s. I need my life to be mine. Lived in a fashion that works for me, adheres to my own morals and principles, and is not projected as a default for anyone else. Times are rough enough as it is without me trying to shape my life into some cookie cutter image of perfection that I do not readily believe in, in the first place. There is no such thing as a normal life.

Let’s End Rabbit Season on the Newbies

I truly dislike writing about topics like this. However, as often as it keeps cropping up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the last year, I realize that is a very timely discussion to have. So what is this all about? Well, it has to do with what I consider to be “bad leadership” within the Pagan community. The newest post concerning all of this came through my Twitter feed and pointed me back to Asa West’s blog post over on Witches & Pagans. In terms of length and discussion, Asa is concise and straight to her point concerning the power dynamics that play out publicly and privately, as well as providing some links to recent examples of this taking place within the Pagan community.

Gizmo
Gizmo hiding…sort of

Abusive individuals within the Pagan community is certainly nothing new. Back in 1986, when I started on my Pagan journey, I heard the stories about individuals in authoritative positions withholding promised magickal training for sexual favors. I have watched people that I had understood to be ethical and appropriate visages of leadership crumble into unethical and criminal activity when money entered the equation. There are others who have utilized their positions of community derived authority to enforce their way of approaching and communing with certain Gods and Goddesses as the “only way” to do so. And the stories and examples can literally go on and on and on and on…

I think that one of the issues here is the ease at which people hand the mantle of leadership and authority to others without blinking even once. I remember starting on this Path, how difficult it was to find any Pagans in the open after the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. I also remember how cautious the coven I eventually decided to work with handled me. They were in Plano, Texas. I was on the other side of the metroplex at Carswell Air Force Base in west Fort Worth. A trip to visit with them was a one hour trip in one direction for me, and that was when the traffic was favorable. Until I was trusted, everything was on a first name basis only. I was even told to not completely trust what I was being taught. “Trust your instincts when dealing with magic” I was told. That was a piece of advice I have maintained since that day, and even applied it to dealing with others.

Look, I have my bad days. There are times I let my emotions get the best of me in any conversation. I expect anyone else has the same issues in their own life. In one of the examples that are linked from Asa’s post is a moment where a person in a position of authority allegedly slapped someone who had deferred that aspect of authority to the individual. Publicly. Now, I do not know the details of the entire exchange nor do I really want to. However, I will supply this: unless an agreement has been made between myself and the other individual that such an exchange – publicly or privately – was agreed upon – that single moment would be the only time that person would have. The same would hold true with someone that would degrade me in a verbal or emotional exchange. For me, the moment that this happened would be the end of any agreement, magickal or otherwise, that we had. This is my methodology for handling situations like this.

But let’s be a little realistic for a few moments. Let’s affix our little fluffy bunny tails to the seat of our pants, and place our fluffy bunny ears on our heads – and take a short trip back to the beginning when we were full of saccharine, covered in glitter, and crapped magickal rainbows. A person that is currently on a Pagan path for the first time may have gone to some really drastic lengths to find that teacher. Unfortunately, they found an abuser. Would they not be willing to let a lot of things go by the wayside? After all, sex magick is just another part of magick, right? And if we don’t reach into our darker parts of who we are, we won’t be ready for some the less pleasant things, right? Yeah. Welcome to the manipulative mannerisms of the abuser. Yes, sex magick is a part of magickal workings. But it is not a moment of getting laid, and in my mind, it is not a road to go down with a novice. AT ALL. As for the darker side of magick, it certainly is there. But making you feel like you are ten inches tall through a barrage of verbal abuse… ::sigh:: And these are just two of the many, many manipulative things that abusers do within our Pagan community. And no, beyond this single sentence, I am not traveling down the pedophile trail – it is there, it does happen, and I will beat the ever-loving shit out of any abuser I find doing this.

All right. ::deep breath, Tommy::

My advice for anyone who finds themselves being abused like this…get out. However, you have to – short of taking someone’s life. Find help. Read up on the signs of abuse. Read up on what leadership SHOULD look like. Shauna Aura Knight has two excellent books on this topic:  Pagan Leadership Anthology, which contains several excellent essays from various folks on leadership. And her book The Leader Within: Articles on Community Building, Leadership & Personal Growth. Furthermore, if you have aspirations to be a leader within your community, know this stuff inside-out, be prepared to step between an abuser and the individual they are abusing. Remember, before you do something, know what you are getting into.

Me? Well, I am a solo Pagan, for a lot of reasons. One of these is so that I am not tempted to abuse whatever authority is handed to me by someone else. Seriously. I am always willing to show folks where my starting points in Paganism were, but I am also cautious to remind them that (a) that was back in 1986, a really long time ago, and (b) just because that worked for me, does not mean it will for them. That old starting point; however, might give them a hint where things might work for them as a starting point. I am no master theologian, top-notch Priest or craft Magician. And anyone suggesting just that about me will make me very, very nervous. Now, a Leader?? Maybe. I have been told that I have leadership qualities and traits in nearly every facet of my life. Usually, I lean to Edgar Friendly’s perspective from the movie Demolition Man: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to do. Sometimes, people come with me.”

Remember, trust your instincts. If it does not feel right, in all likelihood, it would be better to remove yourself from it. if a teacher or a leader asks you to do something you are uncomfortable with – you have every right to say no. You have every right to leave. If they threaten to withhold knowledge or teachings from you – leave. You can get that training or knowledge from somewhere else or someone else with a better set of ethics. There is not a single person on this planet that has sole custody of any truth, except where that applies to themselves alone. One of these days, I hope someone comes up with something similar to a Seeker’s Bill of Rights. Because our wider Pagan community could certainly put something like to good use, particularly for those fluffy bunnies just coming on to the scene. It certainly never should be Rabbit Season…

 

 

Unpacking My “Hippie-ness”

I am not a fan of labels, particularly when applied to people as a “broad-brush”, “paint-by-numbers” descriptive. However, those same labels tend to help cut to the chase when trying to provide explanations for one’s own perspective – provided that everyone agrees on the wider definitions applied to those terms. When I get asked to describe myself to a group of strangers (or even people who only know me in one contextual aspect), I have a tendency to fall back to those labeling adjectives of “Pagan”, “Druid”, “Coder”, and “Hippie.” All, when utilized under the definitions I apply to those terms, are very accurate depictions of who I am. But not everyone uses the same definitions applied to the same symbolic terminology set. And therein lies the rub of it all.

27858032_10155057913836751_1589891266989413670_nPagans, Druids and Coders tend to provide some of the similar aspects of modernist symbology. Pagans are tree-hugging, over-reaching environmentalists trekking through suburban environments in their sandals screaming about saving the environment while waving their Starbucks coffee in their gesturing hand with their iPhone firmly grasped in the other. Druids are those guys that dress all in white, let their beards grow down to their nether regions, and meditate under the small sapling that the city planted on the urban street environment. Coders tend to sleep during the day, wear clothes that haven’t seen an iron since Romeo Muller won a Peabody award for “The Hobbit”, and walk around the hallways of their work environment in search of caffeine while muttering about WHILE loops and broken hierarchical tree structures. Am I right?? Accurate depictions?? Of course not, but all are somewhat accurate (if not comical) depictions of who I am to one degree or another.

Yet, it is the simple term “hippie” that gets most “mainstream” people (I tend to call them “squares”) bent out of shape, if you will. Thanks to some rather repugnant campaigns to malign and impugn the hippie counter-culture of the late 1960s, the usage of the term immediately shoots the image of the drug-addled, unkempt individual just sitting in the middle of wherever, focused on nothing at all. In fact, the hippie is generally viewed as an individual who has “turned-on and dropped-out” of regular society. The comedic overtones of this rather cartoon-ish image has been quite pervasive. Coupled with the accuracy of some aspects of this perspective, the wide brushed painting has completed the immediate coloring of an individual identifying with the hippie perspective as being just that – someone who is more in-tune with smoking weed, and not wanting the harshness of reality impinging on those emotions and feelings that are induced by whatever high is available.

However, while the drug culture is a big part of the conversation concerning the hippie, it is certainly not all of that conversation. In fact, it is small enough that the drug aspect is not even the truest aspect of what a hippie seeks within existence. That would really be the perspective of “freedom” which immediately begs the question – what does it mean to be free?

The answer to this, in my mind’s eye, depends on the person. However, I believe it can be boiled down to an essential element that a person is allowed to do as they see fit, within the bounds and limits of societal concepts, as well as limits placed on us by law. Now, the right-ness or wrong-ness of those laws can be debated to one degree or another, but that is a discussion for another blog post. But a hippie, from my own personal understanding, just merely wants the freedom to do as they see fit – and be left alone to do those actions. That doesn’t mean that every hippie is just waiting for people to leave them alone at their campfire in the woods, so that they can blaze up a fat one. Not every hippie wants or needs drugs. However, they should be free to do so, provided they do no harm to others when doing so. Essentially, a ‘live and let live’ theory to life, if you will.

In his book “Hippies and American Values”, Timothy Miller stated the hippie ethos, in terms of a religious movement, was meant to move beyond the limitations that were experienced within the mainstream religious institutions. In this, I would agree – this is what the reference towards being a hippie is about for me. Hippies, for the most part, were unafraid to try something new, to move outside the barriers created by monolithic institutions and binary thought. Miller also denoted that “…like many dissenting religions, the hippies were enormously hostile to the religious institutions of the dominant culture, and the tried to find new and adequate ways to do the tasks the dominant religions failed to perform.” That one quote really embodies what I believe is a dominant theme within the Pagan systems that have grown since those emotional moments in the late 1960s. There is no “war” to speak of, merely an abandonment of religious practices that no longer held any formative meaning for those wanting and needing more from their Spiritual lives and practices.

When I am asked how I feel that I am like the hippies of those difficult times of the 1960s, this is the area that I have staked out as my own reasoning. I was raised as a Protestant, sent to all-boys Catholic schools so that my experience of the Christian faith would be widened and deepened, as my father relayed to me about three years prior to his passing beyond the veil. My parents were not devout religionists of any flavor. We never attended church services. I was not encouraged to look beyond what was offered, because it was mainstream and acceptable – exactly what my parents wanted of my life. I wanted something different. I wanted freedom. I wanted something where I belonged. Where I felt like I was who I am. Where I could believe what I believed in my heart.

So I am a hippie. I am not ashamed of that label or title. But what it means to me, freedom, is far different than the ramshackle image of a cartoon-ish, drug-addled, munchie-driven Maynard G. Krebs that society has attached to the term. Rather than being driven away from the term….or cringe when squares flash a “v for victory” sign at me with their fingers and murmur the stereo-typical “peace, man” slogan…I am reminded of the meaning it holds for me – the Seeker. The individual driven by the need to find ways of connecting with the world around me in ways that have meaning and depth for who I am.

Mind Your Head, Mind Your Step

A few years ago, I took a trip to the United Kingdom with the college where I work. For many of the folks on the trip it was a new experience. For me, it was a trip back to England. Moreover, it was quite the experience for me. One I will not forget anytime soon. When we were down in the tube – the subway, in American vernacular – I remember seeing the signs all around – ‘mind the gap” – which referred to the area between the subway train and the platform. This notorious little no-man’s gap was where many an unwary traveler’s leg would wind up causing a great deal of embarrassment and potential pain. As I watch the gyrations of Americans over the current political state caused by the current resident of the White House, I continually see similar signs in my own mind’s eye stating, “Mind your head” and “mind your step.”

gapThe signs that I see in my own mind’s eye are essentially visual reminders and cues to not be too caught up in the whirlwind that has become America’s favorite past time: restlessness, hand-wringing, consternation, and general panic over politics. Yeah, forget baseball and football, America’s past time is being glued to their TV sets for the daily broadcasts of the news on their preferred spin-cycle. Staying glued to those news spinmeisters is precisely what the current President wants. Your attention, complete and undivided. Even if you are completely outraged and angry – your focus is still him, what he says, what he does, what he does not say, and what he does not do. I will hand it to him; he certainly knows how to command a publicity campaign. However, I believe it is time to mind one’s head.

Peter Coyote wrote in his book ‘Sleeping Where I Fall’ – “High ideals and visionary brilliance [are] no substitute for daily practice grounded in spiritual insight.” Spending all of our time worshiping at the television, grinding our teeth and wringing our hands over what one single man thinks pays homage to what he desires the most – attention. Positive, negative, indifferent – that matters not to him, so long as you are talking about him, his words, or his deeds. I cannot speak for you, what you do or what you manage or handle within your life, but I just do not have the energy capital to spend on this person in that manner. I have many other things that need to be handled and dealt with on a daily basis. Moreover, to be frankly open and honest, I have wasted far too much of my time on things that do not provide a return of any sort. In minding my head, I need to bring my focus back to my own daily Spirituality, to the areas where I should be focusing, and not on something that lauds and flatters some individual’s narcissistic needs.

Granted, there are things that this guy does that need to have an eye kept on, an understanding of what is being done, which provides a watchful gaze on what may cross into the our own lives or the lives of the ones we love. We do need to be ready to mind the gap, and stand in the way of potential tyranny. However, we also need to make sure we do the daily things that work in our own spirituality, the things that keep us moving forward in our own lives and our own devotional practices. In this manner, we need to insure that we are minding our own heads, finding that balance between watchfulness of things that do nothing directly for others or us and those things that we need to do in our daily Spiritual practices.

For me, part of my daily routines were to go outside and recite my daily prayers as the night skies started to darken the world around me. Rain or shine, hot or cold; I made my way outside. Then one night, I did not. I remember the night quite well. It was the night of the so-called St. Louis riots. People were taking to the streets to protests the police shooting of a young black man. I stayed indoors, riveted to the television. When I finally looked up, it was 11pm and time for me to go to bed. I never made it outside. The next night, I was again riveted to the television of news coverage. And then over the next few months, I made fewer and fewer trips out to the stone circle during the evening. I knew it was not a bad thing to miss a few days here and there. Nevertheless, part of handling a daily practice is continuing the same routine as best as one can. Moreover, getting back into the same practice is becoming more and more difficult. Yes, it seems like a small thing – and it likely is. However, it is a part of my daily devotional process with Crow and Coyote, and I let too many other things get in the way.

Recently, I have been reorganizing my own life. Somethings that I gave priority and privilege to within my life needed to be set back in their proper places. It had turned into a one-way street. I poured all the energy and effort into these things, and received nothing or extremely little in return. The only people benefiting from all of this were those who showed no appreciation for what I was trying to do. Thus, the change was necessary. I started examining many parts of who I am and where I am at and came to the realization that those things that I did get benefit and return from were the very things that I had set off to the side as items that I could do later. I certainly needed to take some time and mind my head.

watchforsnakesI use politics, the issues with Donald Trump and the issues I have with the media as a whole as examples because everyone can readily understand all of this. All of these have some reach into our lives and the lives of those we love, as well as strangers we have never met. Yet, when we pour our energy into being outraged, being angry, being depressed…we get nothing from all of that, except the warm glow of those feelings. Those that protest, write letters, make phone calls, and even confront governmental representatives over these issues can wind up feeling empty when the day is done. In addition, when you expend all the hours of your day, and ignore the aspects of your daily Spiritual life, your daily devotions and other aspects – you can feel your life spinning out of control. I know I have. I did. I continue to feel that.

Minding your step is about coming back to those things that helped uplift you. Your daily devotionals to the Gods. Minding where and how you spend your energy and time. Because if we do that, we can find that, we can do more than one thing. We can be outraged without worshiping at the television for hours on end. We can also do our daily devotionals. We can add aspects of our outrage into our devotionals, asking the Gods for advice, assistance and even inspiration. We do not have to choose how we resist over how we manage our Spiritual lives. However, in trying to combine the two, we once again have to mind our heads, to make sure that we find a balance between mindfulness and outrage, so one does not overwhelm and drown out the other.

Mind your head? Certainly. Keep an eye on your own thoughts; your own emotional state. Learn when to back off. Explore where your limits are. Push those boundaries when you can. Moreover, realize that those limits and boundaries can change daily, hourly. What you are capable of today may be more or less tomorrow. That quantity is malleable. What it is or is not is completely up to you. You know you.
–T /|\