What Does Shadow/Darkness Mean to You?

Over on Facebook, I have a few folks that ask questions to me via private messages. Usually, I take a few lines to answer – and the questions are typically short, softball questions that are all over the place. However, from time to time, I get a really extensive question that I feel might be a good blog post. This was how this post came to be…

Q: What does Shadow and/or Darkness mean to you

That is a really meaty subject to tackle, and not one I have really gone towards a ton. I certainly hope I can do this some sort of justice. I hit my own moments of darkness. I have spent time with my own Shadow-self. None of those times were pleasant, and I tend to not write about my thoughts during these times, though I really should make a more concentrated effort to do so.

Gizmo hiding…sort of

Perhaps, a better place to start would be a bit of a description of what I mean by these terms. Shadow or Darkness, for me are the tougher times in life. When I have tons of self-doubt of who I am, what I can do, what I am capable of. Many times, just interacting with this particular perspective can lock me up into a non-moving perspective. Where I am afraid to do anything for fear of not being “good enough” to do what is necessary. or that my actions or thoughts will just make things even worse. It is a severe paralyzing perspective, which can have me curled up on the floor of my office, literally, in tears.

Usually, I am fairly confident that I can find a solution to whatever problem I am given. Even when I don’t think I have the “right” skillset to tackle an issue, I am always sure that I can do my best to get around the problem with the skill sets that I do have. The innate troubleshooter that lives inside me is capable of putting things together to attempt a solution, no matter how awkward, inappropriate or offbeat that may be. However, there is always the moment where I have trouble seeing myself being able to solve any problem. Where I am telling myself that I am not good enough to even try and get to a solution. That it might be better that I never would have existed.

Those moments of despair are my moments of Darkness. Those are the moments where my Shadow Self whispers my worst fears into my ear, and my brain buys into what is being said. Those dark moments of the soul are extremely difficult to get through.

There are other sides to Darkness and Shadow as well. Shadow and Darkness are not just markers of despair, anxiety, or other moments of self-weakness. Darkness can also be a veil between the know and the unknown, purposefully keeping you off of information and experience you are not quite ready for. You need only tighten up your belt and courage, and reach through that veil to find what you might be seeking. No matter the distance of the veil, there will always be another opening of light further on. Are you willing to go? Are you willing to take those steps into the unknown? Be careful of stepping forward too quickly and too willing. The darkness can hide obstacles in your path. Gnarled tree roots seeking your footfalls. Slippery rocks seeking to unbalance your walk. Sharp ends of branches looking to snag your hair, your clothing or deeply scratch your skin, so as to alter your sense of direction. Or who knows what else? Those noises you hear may be unnatural things, seeking your flesh.

The true meaning of what Darkness or Shadow may be is truly up to you. For me, it depends on the situation and the momentary experience. There can be the shroud to push through to find those new experiences. But that shroud can also bring despair, confusion, and doubt to those who are not completely prepared for what can happen. Sometimes the shroud obscures the world around you – depriving you of one or more of your senses. Other times, it can show you the world around you in extreme clarity, and provide a sensation of doubt over your abilities. In either case, the Darkness or the Shadow is there as an experience. And sometimes that experience can be so painful as to stop your whole world.

So what to do?? How to get beyond those moments? Well, that answer is different for everyone. But I can promise you this: someone is there to help guide you through things. If you need a hand to guide you, there’s Cat Treadwell’s extremely awesome book Facing the Darkness. Nine Hells, there’s always me. You can always write me (elfster@gmail.com). It might not be the same thing as someone being there, but at least its something. Like I said, there’s always SOMEONE that can help you. You can call a crisis helpline, and talk with someone. It’s something. And something is always better than nothing.

Remember folks, everyone goes through the moments of Darkness in their lives. Everyone has a Shadow Self that whispers those thoughts of doubt in their ears. Some folks are better at telling that Shadow Self to take a hike. For those that aren’t, there’s always help available, somewhere. Those dark moments won’t last forever. Those moments do hurt, but in time the darkness fades, and there’s a hand to hold.

I Resist By Living My Life

“Resist.”

I cannot tell you how often I hear this word in its various little instances. And how little attention I have come to pay to it. Sure, I get the criticism. I am a white, heterosexual male. I understand all of that, but the constant chant of finding opposition through negative phrasing and actions…well…man it wears on this hippie.

Certainly, there is a battle of sorts between a newer generation that wants to express itself freely, and an older generation that wants the world to stay where it is culturally. Those of you who were alive when I was born (1965) and experienced this culturally tug of war, can stop me anytime. Same thing for those of you who lived through the decadent time of the early to mid 1980s (along with me). And those of you in the 1990s….anyone seeing a cycle, yet?

A large portion of what we have seen, comes from a difference in the overriding cultures. But there’s other stuff underneath all of this too. The idiotic sub-culture of racial supremacy, pounded out in whatever format you want to frame it in. And all of that is greased with the corrupt nature of what our politics have become here in America. We talk about resisting “the man” using slogans and concepts from the 1960s to reframe our fight against the megalith of older generations and dying poster-frames for the tired concept of racial inequality.

But I get it. I understand the entire resist conformity. I’m in a minority Spiritual Belief system. I am a believer in the minority perspective of polyamory. I believe that people should love who they love, regardless of societal straw-folk that are lit with the flames of hatred towards race and gender. Everyone should have an equal chance at the same pay rates as any else – regardless of race, gender, age, hair color, whatever. Depeche Mode probably put it best….

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

So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs
It’s obvious you hate me 
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I never even met you
So what could I have done

I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand

But beating our brains against concrete and steel walls not of our making is not useful. We bloody our heads, with nothing to show for the effort behind the shouts of anger and pain we make – and the hollow thump we create against said wall. However, I think there is a better way to go about things.

We all know the maxim that the way to get magick to work is to get off your ass and do whatever needs to be done. Perhaps, we should use our own behaviors as the beacons towards how to accomplish what is necessary. Instead of screaming and yelling – we live. We live as we normally would. As if the laws that keep loved ones apart are not part of our lives. We show how our lives are just as “normal” as anyone else’s, by living our lives. We don’t incite the violence, but we also don’t stand to the side when someone is being abused. Even someone on the “other side”. Most Pagan-folk that I know are compassionate people. I think that more of that compassion needs to be on display.

No. I don’t think that the idea of “resistance” is blowing out shop windows of corporate stores. I think that is criminal activity. You don’t like the big-chain coffee store? Don’t shop there. Want to show the old 1950s folks that people love who they love, and that is normal? Then treat your relationship normally. Don’t use it as a flail when you’re in public. Certainly don’t hide it. Just be yourself, the way you feel your relationship SHOULD be viewed by everyone. Resist the stereotype by JUST LIVING. Don’t become the parody that you think you should be…be you. Just live. That, my friend, is resistance. And don’t become a punching bag. Defend who you are. If you must physically defend yourself or someone else – do so.

As I note in nearly anything that I write…all of this is merely my opinion. My style of “resistance” may not live up to your standards, and that’s fine. But remember, before you criticise and chastise me for not being “Pagan Enough” or “Resistance Enough”…I’m not saying that anyone MUST do ANYTHING I have noted above.

Playing Dress Up With the Gods

One of the most interesting sides of working with Gods and Goddesses that I have found comes from how They get depicted by various folks. What makes it even more interesting is how tightly folks will hold to the notion that the way their own mind’s eye depicts the Gods and Goddesses is the ONLY way that They should be portrayed. That single empirical attitude makes me cringe every time I hear it – whether it comes from a Pagan, Polytheist or even a Monotheist.

Let’s consider the monotheistic Christian God and His progeny, Jesus ben Joseph. Now, I am not arguing the divinity or what not here – I am purely looking at the manner in which these two figures get depicted. Both are typically shown as white males. God typically is shown as a greying man with a long, flowing beard. JbJ gets shown as a long-haired hippy type, typically with long blondish-brown hair and typically a goatee or fairly stylized beard. Now, there are folks who will decry this, and point out that JbJ was born in a part of the world where the typical skin-tone is brownish, not the lighter skinned European tones we tend to see in paintings and even in movie scenes. So, given that – who’s right? Who has the correct essence here?

Well, I say that both are right. If JbJ looks like a white, European hippy when you make your connection with him – awesome. Its what works for your Mind’s Eye. Your Mind’s Eye will lay down a depiction that works for you. That doesn’t make it the sole depiction out there, just the one that manifests in your own Mind’s Eye. If JbJ looks a bit more like an Egyptian bricklayer who has seen the sun for far too many days of his life, that works too. For you.

When I first felt I was being contacted by The Morrigan, I had a tough time trying to figure out if it was Her or not. My depiction of the Gods is a bit more modern than most people tend to think. The Valkyrie that were showing up were dressed in jeans, boots and typically t-shirts. Coyote and Crow both tend to manifest in my Mind’s Eye like a pair of dusty hitch-hikers in the midwest. Torn up jeans, worn cowboy boots, disheveled hair, five-o’clock shadows on their cheeks and chin, a t-shirt and a beat up jeans jacket if the weather is cooler. None of those are typical depictions that you will hear or read about from other people. That’s because this is what works for my Mind’s Eye. I think of any of the Gods showed up looking anything close to their depictions in the Deities and DemiGods handbook from the Advanced Dungeon and Dragons collection – I’d likely have a heart attack. I know I would have a tough time relating to Them.

So why the t-shirt and jeans motif?? To be honest, I’m not completely sure, but I do have my own theory. I am most comfortable in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Since this is where my own personal comfort level is, I project that within my Mind’s Eye when working directly with the Gods. Who knows, They may have me depicted in a toga in Their own Mind’s Eye. I don’t ask because its really just not that important to me. Nor is it really important to me how others depict the Gods in their own Mind’s Eye.

Now, there will be folks who are closer to being purists when it comes to the depiction of the Gods. They will saw that most of what I am describing her is a person’s fanciful imagination, and not a proper vision of the Gods. Well, I’ll agree with the first part – what my inner Mind’s Eye depicts is definitely part of my “fanciful imagination.” Without that in place, my mind would have a very difficult time understanding, comprehending, and translating what I see from beyond the veil (my opinion, thankyouverymuch). The second part? Well, I can understand, comprehend and relate to the point that is being made. Visions of the Gods tend to have similarities that help identify what is what. But its a debate stage I refuse to wade into because I am not here to tell anyone that what they experience is real or not. I leave that type of rule-chasing for those that feel the need to go there.

Seriously, if someone wants to play dress-up with the Gods and put Aphrodite in a sheer negligee, go for it. If She has a problem with it, She’s going to make sure you know. But that’s between you and Her. Me? I’ll be hanging out at The Four Winds Bar (hat tip to Blue Oyster Cult) having a drink. Make mine two fingers of Bushmills Black. Neat, please.

Being a Pagan on Wednesdays…

What is it like to be a Pagan? In a given month, I hear this question asked about five to seven times. Usually offered in hushed tones, like the two of us are doing a covert drug deal in the open. I can grok why though. When someone finds out I am a Pagan, they think I am hiding in the open. That I am afraid I am going to be jumped on by any hardcore, overtly Christian that may be in earshot. or that I am going to be snatched up by a demon possession team for a sekrit exorcism. To be frankly honest, those pushy, overt Christian types are far and between in my experience. And it has been a long time since I was cornered in the Sembach Air Base Post Office lobby at three in the morning because I appeared in the centerfold article of the European Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Just Like Anyone Else

Over the years – let’s see, since 1986, which makes it thirty-two years – all I have really wanted to convey to anyone is that being a Pagan is no difference than being any other Spiritual faith. Much like a Christian believes in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; I believe in many more aspects of Gods and Goddesses. The difference is not in what we believe, the difference is in how we experience our Spirituality in the world around us. Same with any other faith. In fact, it is the same if you compare with any other Pagan, any other Polytheist, and any other Animist. We all have differences in our experiences with the world around us – both physically and spiritually.

No single moment of experience is exactly the same. There will always be small differences. Little anomalies that make our experiences unique. As each should be. I can stand in the exact same location as you, see the exact same view of a landscape as you – and have a completely different experience. Yours may merely be that the scenery is pretty or massively exquisite from others that you have seen. Mine may be more geared towards a massively detailed experience of the soul of the trees, rocks, ground, skies, rivers, seas, lakes, and animals that permeate that same landscape. The feel of the Spirits of Place might catch my breath and show me a deeper aspect – how this land lives and breaths. Or it might not. Even then, my appreciation of the beauty I see before me will be different from yours. Our experiences of the world around us, mundane and spiritual, are unique between what we experience and ourselves. We are unique beings, just as the Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestor and the Gods and Goddesses are unique beings. The connections we create with all of those and even with ourselves will be just as unique as we each are.

Still Haven’t Found…

In a somewhat recent article on CNN (which I cannot find again), there was a notation that Witchcraft had entered into the mainstream of religion here in America. And that Christianity had shrunk considerably. Witchcraft, the article had noted, had 1.5 million adherents within the United States. After I finished the article, a few quick thoughts kicked through my mind. 1.5 million adherents, yep, and they all attend Pantheacon in San Jose each year. Each. And. Every. Single. One. of. Them. Or at least that’s the way it seems to feel. But all of that makes me wonder, how are these folks defining “Witchcraft”, and to think further, how are they defining “Christianity”?

Certainly, I have watched the Neo-Pagan movement, what some might define as the “fluffy-bunny” or “New-Ager” movements, get larger and larger every year. These are generally the folks that are seemingly at the edges of the Pagan model. The fuzzy edges of the circle, if you will. And there is the well documented shift away from the overtly conservative Christian model that has been happening for quite some time. Using those aspects, I can see where the article is pulling its descriptive perspectives from. However, now that we have a slight understanding of where this comes from – let’s step away from the politics of what is and what isn’t a Pagan or a Christian.

People are constantly searching for a spiritual home. For most of them, a spiritual home need only be a few inches deep in the dirt around them. There is little or need or desire to dig deeper, find a more solid foundation for what they are trying to do. They only wish to be part of the larger crowd. This sheep-herd mentality is common. I saw it when I was searching for my own Spiritual home. The way that all the folks I hung out with in high school flocked to the Southern Baptist faith because the “hot girl” was there. There was no desire to learn more about the faith they were getting into. They dug a few inches deep so they could stake their claim to land they had no desire to cultivate. I dug deeper and found a faith that couldn’t support my way of thinking. It took a long time to formulate who and what I was, to find a label that would work for me.

Labels Take the Guesswork Out of Knowing

Labels are wonderful things, particularly when curating disparate data sets. A few meta tags here and there and you have a wonderful system that keeps things organized and in separate containers. Awesome stuff for a library, a dataset or even a collection of things, but not so much for working with people. Or is it?

Yes, this is a slight divergence from my usual positioning on labels being adhered to people. I am quite well known for the manner in which I eschew the concept of labels being applied in any manner to a group of people, much less to a single individual. However, despite the very bland, very non-descriptive way that labels tend to be utilized as convenient non-thinking manners of classification – labels can be useful for simplistic organizing of categories. A Druid is a Druid. OBOD, ADO, BDO, ADF, what have you…all of these are Druids even though they are all very different organizations of Druids with emphasis on methodologies and types of magickal use. Take a step further back, and those differences all set back into the fact that these are all Druid orders. So, if we use these labels are quick methods of organizing and classifying thoughts in our minds, while remembering that each order has significant differences that make each of them unique, we don’t have to dig too deep. If Druidry is not your thing, you know you can set all of these groups off to the side, and search elsewhere in your quest for a Spiritual home. Just remember, if you still haven’t found…circle back to these and have a quicker, deeper look. You might actually find what you are looking for.

Same As It Ever Was

I have watched Christian friends go through similar searches. Moving from church to church, seeking a fellow group of people that accept them for who they are and whatever minor idiosyncrasies they may be carrying with them. Perhaps, the plastic Jesus glued to the dashboard of their car is more important than wearing a necklace with a crucifix. Maybe they like to throw out a loud “Amen” during the sermon. Or they prefer a potluck spaghetti dinner be held in the basement for the church’s youth. Yeah, whatever. They go through the same searches that we have all done as Pagans. Shuffling through the deserts of our Spirituality, trying to locate the sweet tasting water of a Spiritual oasis that soothes our throats. We all search for our Spiritual homes. And what’s the difference? We disagree on how many Gods and Goddesses exist. We disagree that monotheistic Christianity is the ONLY way to personal fulfillment.

Yes, my usual answer to folks asking “What’s it like to be a Pagan” tends to be a flippant “Is it Thursday or Monday?” But there’s a hint in that answer too. It all depends on the day. Because each day brings a new experience. Sometimes similar to others. Sometimes not. But unique regardless.

It Can Go No Further…For Now: Thoughts on Extemporaneous Spiritual Practices

There is always that moment of frustration. When you are trying to work in a particularly interesting aspect of magickal working into your own practice, and it just does not seem to fit. For me, that is the usual clue that it should not be added, not even in some heavily modified form. I am not one of those folks that really deals with complicated components to my Spirituality. I like simplicity — the feel of smooth, clean, unadorned aspects of magickal working or ritual. No extra steps. No numerous days of meditation leading up to the rite. Just a simple technique of getting myself as close to the mood and mode of doing – and then just doing. I am constantly looking for magickal techniques to try and even adapt, to my own personal practice. However, sometimes what I try just does not really work.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I cannot fit an elephant into a thimble. Nor can I turn a cat into an aardvark. Some magickal techniques or pieces of ritual framework just do not fit – no matter how much I want it to. For me, this little reminder is a way to keep my practice under control. Perhaps, what I am trying to change is a technique I might need to work with a little more before I start changing out parts. Perhaps what I am trying to add just complicates the mix too much – adds too many moving parts and alters the “taste” of what I am doing?

In a manner of speaking, much of what I do in ritual and magick and prayer is similar to cooking food. I did not learn how to boil eggs after my first try. I tried different techniques that I got from discussions with other folks, tv cooking shows, and even recipe books. I utilized each technique until I found one I was comfortable with. Only after a few dozen tries did I try altering pieces of it to try and “perfect” the methodology of boiling eggs. I really was not trying to “perfect” anything though. I was trying to find little minute details in the recipe’s direction – the process – that would create subtle differences in the boiled eggs that I produced.

I use the same technique for working magick. I find a technique that works, and continue to use it over and over. I write down the results of what I do, and when I find a pattern of magick that works – only then do I try to alter little pieces to see where it can go for me. Now, considering how little I use magick techniques – these types of changes can literally take forever. At least for me. But for ritual techniques – that’s a different story altogether.

I am constantly making changes to my ritual format. I add one particular component here, and remove another over there. My preferred method of ritual is completely impromptu. Absolutely off the cuff. And to be completely honest, I do not recommend this to anyone out there. Going completely impromptu in your ritual practice can be quite a jarring experience, particularly if you are part of a group. Most people like a firm, solid basis to work from. Working impromptu does not always provide that. Now, for me, that means working with some disparate, and sometimes unpredictable, energies. if you have ever talked with me face-to-face, you are aware that I tend to have three-to-five thoughts running concurrently in my head, along with the conversation we are having. For me, its a very similar experience to working impromptu ritual. If you can handle calling a single quarter and than shouting out “SQUIRREL!” as another shiny catches your eye, and then picking back up where you were….impromptu ritual formats might be something to investigate.

So what do I do with all the apparent detritus from all this experimentation? Well, being the pack-rat I am, I save it. Usually in written form in one of my many notebooks. I never know when I might come back to a technique or format and utilize it. And sometimes, the stuff is fun to look back on, roll my eyes, and think – did I *really* try that? Believe me, a sense of humor is always a handy thing to have, particularly when you take a few steps back and peek at what was.

There are detractors to the idea of impromptu ritual as well. Typically, it comes people who are far more attuned to the practice of group ritual. And that dissent makes sense if you spend a few moments thinking about its typical area of genesis. Most group ritual is a journey for the members not in control of the calling of the quarters or of the leading of ritual. The focus is usually on taking everyone else on a sensory journey. Extemporaneous ritual would potentially confuse those in the ritual, and would be quite the unbalanced handful of moments. So, those that are typically in favor of group ritual would prefer the calmer waters of scripted ritual. In my eye’s mind, it makes absolute perfect sense.

The same would hold true when it comes to impromptu spiritual practice. A sporadic energy could bring group practice to its literal knees. And it could potentially be a fatal moment for a new group that was trying to find its collective footing. For me, as a solo Pagan, impromptu spiritual practice takes me into corners of my own personal beliefs that I would likely have never visited. That momentary jump from place to place can feel much akin to a hyperactive kitten chasing toys in seven different places throughout the house…all at the same time. But that breathless jump from point to point can spark some really mad fires of Awen. Again, I cannot emphasize how much one needs to be grounded in the basics of their Spiritual Path prior to undertaking these choppy waters.

Working through an extemporaneous or impromptu practice of one’s Spiritual Path can be quite the jarring experience. At times, you can land square on your ass on the concrete and walk away rubbing both cheeks. And for some that can be the stopping point. I cannot count the number of falls and tumbles I have had in using this style of practice. Likewise, I cannot count the number of times that I stood up, dusted myself off, and muttered about how that did not go the way that I had expected. Nor can I count the number of times where I realized I was trying to squeeze that fourth leg of the elephant into the thimble. I am always willing to try again. I am also willing to admit when that fourth leg is not going to make it into the thimble. Extemporaneous Spiritual Practice is not just about exploring your limits and pushing boundaries…it is also realizing when you have reached the limits and conceding that this is far as this can go….for now.

Looking for Advanced Pagan Practices – Roll for Initiative

How do I get my own devotional practice out of beginner status and into advanced stuff? I want to learn more advanced Pagan stuff, where do I go to learn that? What titles do I need to achieve to get there? I need to learn the powerful stuff, where or how does one get out of newbie status?

Good Gods above and below, if I had a quid for each time I have had to field questions like this. And to be completely honest, my answers tend to leave an individual angry about time they feel was wasted in talking about this with me, or disappointed and confused. And none of that has ever been my intention. I try to be as clear and concise as I possibly can, without leaning in one direction for the individual asking the question or being prejudicial to one Path over another. But where does one find all this “advanced” stuff? What are the rules, written and unwritten, to getting there?

To start off, let me cross over into prejudicial Pathways – otherwise known as my personal opinion. I am not sure I can distinguish between a basic Spiritual Path and an “advanced” one. To me, this equates to a level system in some Nintendo gaming system. The more experience points you have, the better your chances are at getting to use the “advanced” stuff in the “restricted” section at the library in Hogwarts. Its almost as if I should be marching around life with my level denoted over my head in a numerical form like some magical avatar. Yes, to be able to utilize some magickal forms, spells, etc – there is a need to build up experience and theoretical understanding of various foundational aspects to get there – but in my mind, none of that makes you “advanced” – just a little more knowledgeable and experienced.

See, I find labels and titles misleading and unhelpful. Looking at the way any individual approaches their own Spirituality as “advanced” or “basic” is just not helpful at all. It sets everything on a course of competitive comparison. We work on our approaches to Spirituality, trying to climb some mythical mountain of progress, marking our distance and speed towards completing each task in relation to how someone else. For me, it is not a race to get to some point, but rather the depth at which we immerse ourselves. For some folks, the necessary depth may be only ankle-deep, for others, it may be thousands of meters. There is no judgment concerning the depth an individual is willing to explore, merely that they explore.

For me, being an “advanced” Pagan is about expanding your own perspective, reaching out to feel new connections, find new ways of doing practices that have stagnated. In other words, exploring who you are and how you are connected to the wider world around you. Want to advance your devotional practice? Explore the Gods and Goddesses you work with, find new ways to connect with Them, find smaller correspondences to dig deeper into, spend a bit more time meditating on who They are. If doing things within a mystery school, a correspondence course, or even sitting down with other Pagans and discussing their approaches seems helpful – explore it. Or conversely, if doing it on your own with no assistance is more rewarding – go for it. Becoming more “advanced” isn’t solely about the learning of the minute details, it is also about the doing, the exploring, the work through trial and error…the perseverance.

Speaking of which, in order to push, pull, scratch, and claw your way through things – what is your goal? Do you desire to draw closer to your Gods, to your Ancestors, find a deeper communion with the Land…or maybe you just want to accumulate more power? Well, if it is more power that you seek, realize that there is always a trade-off in things like this. The same holds true with drawing closer to the Gods, your Ancestors, communing deeply with the Land…all of that has a trade-off in some aspect or another. Ask yourself this question before you start – are you ready to provide that trade-off, even if you have no idea what it might be?

I’ll be open and honest here…when I started down my Path towards devotional practice with Crow and Coyote, I had no clue what I was getting into. Had I thought out some of the aspects of all of this, I might have been a lot more cautious than I was. I doubt I would have said “no” – just that I would not have gone through all the jokes, humiliation, and smack-downs that I endured in the beginning. I certainly would have put my foot down a lot sooner than I did…essentially displaying my “spine” as Coyote had chided me when I expressed my frustration.

So, if you are still thinking about taking your devotional practice to the next level, I will provide some advice that I have created from my own experience. By no means do I consider this to be exhaustive or even “laws” of any sort, except in relation to my self. First, do your research. Read into the God or Goddess that you plan on working with. Find out everything you can. Pay attention to those details. Make sure some of Their actions as shown by the myths are things you can stand by. Second, weigh your options before committing. Make sure you know what you are getting into – now and in the future. If you can find those dedicated to the specific God or Goddess, talk with them. See what is being placed on their lives. If you’re still not sure – don’t be afraid to say no. After all, you have sovereignty over your life. Third, set your limits in the very beginnings of the relationship. Be prepared to accept restrictions placed on you as well. Its a relationship, there’s a two-way street going here. Fourth, pay attention to the way requests, statements and the such are worded to you. Sometimes dealing with Gods and Goddesses is like talking to lawyers. Words matter. Context is everything.

As I said, I have no idea what an “advanced” practitioner looks like or should even act like. And to be truthfully honest, I don’t really care. The depth at which you are prepared to go into your daily practice is at the comfort level that you feel you are at. If you wish to wade into deeper waters, later on, you can do that. If you need more shallow waters, you can do that as well. To me, there should never be any judgment placed on those choices. Going deeper or more shallow isn’t about advancing another level for your Dungeons and Dragons character. Your personal Spirituality isn’t some game. This, in my honest estimation, should not be about gaining degrees, titles and ranks…because none of that stuff means anything in the connection between you and your Gods.

 

 

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’.