Of Awen and Imbas – My Perspective

As I sit here on a Monday night, pondering what to write, I have put a favorite album of mine into the shuffle slot on my iTunes. “Misplaced Childhood” by Marillion was one of those albums that really touched me. The music is the perfect backdrop to some of the most evocative lyrics I have ever heard. It was this album that led me to find the poet buried deep inside of me. To dip my hands into the thick, sweet liquid of the river of creativity, what I would later in my life come to know as the “Awen” of my life, and the “Imbas” of my life.

For those not familiar to Druidry, its probably a good idea to do some explaining here. Awen, as noted by Penny Billington in her book The Path of Druidry, is “…understood as the flowing spirit of inspiration…” For me, this comes in the form of serpentine river of an unknown type of liquid that is nearly gel-like and has a distinct hue of reddish-gold. Now, that’s my mind’s eye creating an image I can work directly with, I’m quite sure your mileage will definitely vary. This is where I tend to put my hands when I meditate and seek inspiration, usually to solve some coding issue I have run across, or even to write an occasional poem. The point is not what it looks like or the consistency I find it to be in my mind’s eye, but finding it and utilizing it to help my mind find solutions or words I had not thought of before. Sometimes it is a full river of liquid, and sometimes I have to search hard just to find the slightest trickle. Even inspiration can run dry from time to time and force you to dig further and deeper than you thought was necessary.

Imbas or Imbas Forosnai, sometimes know as the “Fire in the Head” is somewhat the same, but its also not. I hope I can do a good job explaining this concept. Imbas forosnai is an odl Irish term that translates to “inspiration” according to Wikipedia. I’ll accept that for the moment, and include that this inspiration was gathered through a means of sensory deprivation, which I have never red or heard of an exact manner of doing so. Once the poet was in this particular state, it is stated that the poet would have the gift of prophecy, stating things without being aware that he or she was doing so. Now, my perception of this is a little different…its the point where the poet, the writer, the musician, the orater plies their craft without knowledge of what they say, write or play until the geas is removed from them. It can last for any period of time. The results can be jumbled or deeply inspirational, depending on the individual hearing or reading the work(s) in question.

Now, my meaning may be different than what is accepted and I absolutely understand that. I still stick to my understanding of what “fire in the head” is – that state of being the tool through which wording, music, or whatever is channeled through you into the physical world. It is a state where you have one foot in this world and one foot in the Other World and you serve as the conduit between the two. And yes, the danger of doing this is that the prolonged connection (whatever time frame that might be) could drive the individual, serving as the conduit, mad. One might even describe this state as a form of possession, but regardless of all that – it certainly does exist, and can be induced in many different manners (or even using no method at all).

Do I strive to find these two states? I seek Awen constantly. When I need to see things from a different perspective, seek a different direction, or even to change a prolonged mood – I reach for Awen. A momentary surge or push towards what I am seeking. That nudge that I need, no more.

Do I seek Imbas forosnai? Not really. I have experienced this state twice in my life. Once, while writing a research paper for a college class. The results were unusable, though I did find bits of information in what I did manage to write. The other time was around an ADF fire during a ritual. There was a moment where individuals were invited to step towards the fire and say something, anything. Most were offerings and thanks to the Gods. I had already mentioned to someone else that I probably did not have anything to say. Yet, I still strode to the fire and offered a statement, asking the Gods to protect the water-protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline site. I knew nothing of what I said, only that I had said something. I asked several people what it was that I said…and I felt so stupid asking that question. I’m sure someone thought I was high on something. Except that I don’t do drugs, and had not a sip of whiskey to that point in the night.

Most folks will say “yeah, sure” in regards to all of this. I’m happy to end the conversation there and push off to a discussion on how their favorite baseball team is going to do this coming season. I don’t need to argue with people over what I experience. If someone is unwilling to be open to the idea, its far better to move on to another topic than to try and dissuade them from knowing what I did or did not experience. I don’t need to prove myself right or wrong – I am aware of what I experienced. I have no desire to argue the merit of what I had tried to convey.

As I finish this and try to find some way to close this post, I am confronted with my favorite lyrics from “Misplaced Childhood”:

A penny for your thoughts my dear
A penny for your thoughts my dear

“Lavender”, Misplaced Childhood, Marillion

Essentially I share this to convey some of my own experience with the “Fire in the Head”, and the manner in which I hold Awen within my life. Indeed, a penny for your thoughts, but I certainly hope you will pull back and ask for more. Its worth that…

  1. The Path of Druidry, Penny Billington. p205.

The Calendar Year….In Closing

Gizmo hiding…sort of

Well, its the end of another calendar year. 2018 was not the greatest year I have ever had. In early October, I spent eight days in the hospital with pneumonia. After that, I spent the rest of the month and a good chunk of November at home trying to recover. The meds that were prescribed to me put my body into kidney failure, which I am still trying to recover from. In the Summer, I lost both Gizmo and Kaylee to cancers that spread through their bodies like wildfire. Gizmo was difficult because cancer had gotten into her throat, and she had begun to have trouble breathing, as well as eating. Kaylee, on the other hand, had cancer throughout the rest of her body. Even with pain meds, it was obvious that her quality of life was plummeting very quickly. All of that contributed to this being a very low year for me. But I still wrote, and continue to write. I grieve for my two furry children. And I miss the more healthy me from earlier this year. But everything continues forward. Over the past month, Gabby and Raven have been added to the home. Neither of them is Gizmo or Kaylee nor should they be. Nor are they replacements. They are part of my family, and I enjoy having these two kittens in my life. They make life interesting and fun.

Earlier this year, I also brought my podcasting “career” to a close. I was a podcaster for two podcast shows, which ran twelve years total between the two of them. Towards the end of the second podcast – Upon a Pagan Path – I started to realize that many of the folks that were doing shows out there were covering much the same territory I was, and doing it far better than myself. Plus, in my own personal life, I just could not fit enough time into making sure that things were managed in a timely fashion for doing such an endeavor. So, I made the semi-difficult choice to step aside. Do I miss it? Sometimes. I enjoyed the rapport I had with my audience. I definitely miss all of that. But like I said, others do a far better job than I had ever hoped of doing. 

Over the course of this year, not including this post, I wrote sixty-nine times here in the blog. The most popular post for the year wound up being The Morrigan is Not a Valkyrie. A lot of folks have interpreted this in one of two ways – both having a measure of correctness. (1) I do not wish to work with The Morrigan. (2) I had difficulty seeing the difference between The Morrigan and the Valkyrie, where it should have been easy for me to tell the difference. Both are true. The Morrigan scares the shit out of me. I know the commitment it takes to work directly with Her. I have seen it from some of the people I know that do work with Her, even on a casual basis. I prefer the more casual approach I get from Crow and Coyote – though They can be just as intense. As for not being able to tell the difference. Well, in my defense – I don’t work with Celtic or Norse Gods…being able to immediately tell the difference just wouldn’t be in the cards for me.

I did quite a bit of traveling through the year – at least all the way through September. I made it to my third Pantheacon in a row. Now, Pantheacon trips are expensive for me. San Jose, California is not a short trip. And while I do enjoy Pantheacon very much, it is also a scene of chaos, tumultuous energies, and a lot of what I deem as “unnecessary conflict”. For four days, I have to keep my shields up, as it were, as well as find grounding space where I could when I could. Thus, I will be skipping Pantheacon 2019 in the coming year…not just because of the energies, but because of a whole myriad of things that have converged together to make attendance there especially difficult. My trip to Iceland utilized nearly all of my vacation time and my pneumonia recovery time has eaten away a lot of other off-time margins that I had been holding in reserve. I will be making the ADF Imbolc Retreat in Mountain Home (I will be purchasing my attendance package shortly after I post this), as well as the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering which has become my Spiritual Home. Aside from some possible one-day trips within the region, that will likely be the totality of my travel for the coming year. It is definitely time to bring things to a slower moving pace…and reintegrate with my roots here.

But sixty-nine posts…this works out to 18.90% of the year. Ok. Not that bad for someone who claims that he’s not very good at this. The reality is that I am probably a little better than I really admit. And I could do a far better job of posting as it stands. So, as the new calendar year seems to be a good marker for new goals, I will work towards eighty article posts for the coming year, and twenty poetry type posts as well, and another synopsis for the year post at the end. A total of one-hundred and one posts for the calendar year. I will likely be re-visiting some of the older posts, to come back and flesh out topics a bit more. I will have some newer topics as new off-shoots happen. And all of it will be my perspective.

Remember folks, the point of this blog is to share my perspective, in the hopes that it will let you come to your own conclusions on various topics. Not one single person needs to agree with me on what I write. All I ask is that we respect each other when discussing those differences.

Have a good new year…and remember…be yourself not a projection of what you think others want you to be. You’ll be far happier with who you are…

The “War on Christmas”– Trying to Find an Underdog to Fight For

Its the most annoying time of the year…

IMG_0140Well aside from killing your ears by hearing me sing that line with no sense of harmonics, the holiday season running from late October on through to Beltane is just not one of my favorite times of the year. Particularly, the closer we get to Yule…Christmas…whatever you want to call it. I cringe just being out in public during all of this stuff, hearing the constant barrage of holiday well-wishing that accompanies me from store location to store location. And then the awkwardness of trying to figure out how to respond without offending the thin-skinned well-wisher who is covertly shoving their religious beliefs down my throat. At least, that’s the way I used to handle this stretch of holidays.

These days, I have learned to tone down a lot of my animosity towards the large majority of Christians and their over-exuberance in sharing their beliefs. I have had to remind myself that not everyone is truly tuned into how difficult it can be for someone to deal with their desire to constantly share the so-called “good news” with no regard for the recipient’s own beliefs. Nor should they be. People handle their own perceptions in different ways. Sometimes, they have blinders on towards particularly perspectives – sometimes they cannot even fathom those perceptions. So I have become tone-deaf to the “Merry Christmas” tidings that fly through the air, some being the opening salvo on that war front. Because, these folks are only trying to share a small part of their lives with others…even when it wasn’t asked for in the first place. Then there are the ones that are deliberately confrontational and offensive over stuff like this.

I guess it was about six years ago that I first heard of the full-throated concept of the “war on Christmas.” I am not sure if I first heard of it on Bill O’Reilly’s show, Sean Hannity’s show or an interview with “actor” Kirk Cameron – but I know it originated somewhere in there. Of the three, O’Reilly made a better description of the concept and how it could be expanded. Hannity and Cameron were more like small children shrieking and crying because their favorite toys were not being allowed at the dinner table. And in the years since that time, I have realized that both truly are the equivalent of petulant three-year-olds that never grow beyond where they are.

Apparently, secular (defined as anything, not the exact bend of Christianity that the proclaimer is) forces are out to wipe out Christmas because its the celebrated birth of Jesus Christ. That the religious aspect of the Christmas season is meant to be driven underground so that it becomes nothing more than a holiday of gift-giving. Through this insidious plot to drive Jesus out of Christmas, the desire is to eventually destroy Christianity by chipping away at its edges until it is finally broken and shattered into smaller pieces. The old divide and conquer theory.

Kirk Cameron is a devout proclaimer of this concept, touting terrible end-times concepts in his “movies” where Christianity is thrust aside by the masses, and a handful of “true believers” are left to carry out their beliefs in secret, trying to avoid press gangs and hunter squads of non-Christians seeking to incarcerate and/or kill them. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I have watched Pagans go through much the same fears as their lives are torn apart by over-zealous Christian neighbors setting Child Protective Services on them, simply because they practice a belief system that is antithetical to their concept of the 1950s “Leave it to Beaver” concept of the suburban Christian family. The fears of Cameron and others of his ilk are mirrored from within the Pagan community – and I have no doubt that these can also be found within other religious communities as well.

Oh yes, fear of persecution because you live differently from others is quite real. We saw that fear given rise in World War II Europe, as Jews, Gypsies and other “undesirables” were rounded up and sent to camps, treated as lesser than animals. We see it today, in the way that immigrants and gypsies are treated in society within Europe. It’s no different here in the States. We have an underlying, deeply seated current of racism, a distrust of those who have come here from other countries and cultures…we fear the unknown, the people that are not “like us.”

Think I have gone too far? From “Happy Holidays” to the sad manner in which we treat others that are different from us? And by “we”, I mean the collective “we” of our modern society – not you individually. I would submit that there is no “war on Christmas”. Rather, O’Reilly, Hannity, and Cameron (and others like them) are shoving a narrative to set their supporters in a position of being the victim, the underdog, the oppressed, the outsider…all of these are archetypal perspectives that are easy for us to grasp. We understand very well what it is like to have the odds not be in our favor. You find it throughout our entertainment options. The many movies of Rocky Balboa, who never seems to be favored in any fight he takes on, and yet when he wins, we all feel like we’re part of it because we can relate to all the bad shit happening to him. The high school kids in the movie Red Dawn, who face down Soviet and central American forces in the Rockies, while the adult population merely capitulates. Honestly, it is easier to draw up the fight in you when you feel like you are backed into a corner…its a feeling we have all been weaned on.

No, there is no “war on Christmas”. For O’Reilly, Hannity, and Cameron, the beating of the war drum allows for people’s fears to loosen up their wallets and purchase whatever is deemed as “necessary” for the coming battles. Their hard-sell of the underdog in society plays on our worst fears: trapped behind barbed wire, forced to capitulate to a foreign God or Gods. Funny, all of that played out in the boarding schools for the children of First Nations’ peoples. If you want to see what it REALLY looks like, read up on that history. The so-called “war on Christmas” does not even approach that environment. Not even close. If that is not enough for you, read up on what happened in the concentration camps for “undesirables” or even in the ghettos of Poland under the regime of the Third Reich. Or look into the work camps in Siberia or even the prison camps in the southwest deserts for individuals of Asian descent during World War II – a lovely, glossed over moment in American History.

Yeah, there are many examples of what can happen if the so-called “war on Christmas” were given any respectable footing within our society. But it is a process that has many more miles to go before it gets to a critical mass. More closely to a point of critical mass is the manner in which we treat immigrants trying to come here to America – or even in Europe – looking for a better life for their families. Most of these people are seeking solace and shelter from war-ravaged and violent areas. And honestly, if I were in their position, I would be doing the same thing – going elsewhere to seek a better life. No matter how I got there. No matter what it took. Screw the “war on Christmas”. if you were looking for an underdog fight to champion…look no further.

 

So you’re an Elder…what now? Finding my role without really looking…

I am an Elder in the Pagan community. I have been on my Pagan path since 1986. Other Pagans do talk with me about their own Path and seek advice as to what I would do in their place. And honestly, every time that happens, I hit freak-out mode, even though I do realize that it will happen, and people will ask.

During the Iceland trip, I actually had a long, interesting conversation with two folks over a lunch. Yes, advice was asked for, and I tried my best to puzzle out how I would respond in that individual’s situation if it were me. Afterward, I still had my little freak-out moment, and I knew I needed to process this a little more because it has become increasingly more obvious that situations like this will continue to come about.

img_9678Part of my consternation comes from my dislike of titles, particularly those bestowed upon me simply because of the amount of time I have been on my Path. I can somewhat grok the perspective that my thirty-plus years as a Pagan provide me with a potentially unique insight. I have seen much happen within the Pagan community in that time. Some good, some bad, some not easy to label with a descriptive. I have watched some Pagans maneuver through their starting points on their Path with grace and ease, I have watched others include myself, struggle through some aspects in a difficult measure. I have watched some Pagan communities splinter and dissipate, while others grow, change and evolve. But does all of that observation (and in some cases my own participation) provide me with some unique perspective that makes me all-knowing or places me in a better position than anyone else to offer advice or perspective?

Traveling through this part of my feelings, and my struggle towards accepting my own role as an Elder has brought me to this point. What in the Nine Hells am I expecting of myself in a role as an Elder? My struggle with this has nothing to do with the people that stop me along their own Path and ask questions. No, my struggle comes back to a feeling of being responsible for someone else’s Spiritual Path. Which, to be blunt, I’m not.

I’m not trained as a Priest. I do not, will not and cannot perform those functions. There are members of the Pagan community who are more than capable of doing these functions. They have pledged their lives to be Priests for their communities. Part of their function is in assisting and training others who are also on their Path. It would be wrong, unethical, and very unwieldy for me to perform such functions. I am not a clergy member. It is not my function nor my role.

However, what I can do…is talk and discuss with other Pagans. I can offer my own solutions to some of the issues that they may have. I can add my perspective and opinion to the wider conversation. My thirty-plus years on my Pagan Path does provide me with a unique perspective. But my perspective is no better, no more rich and fulfilling than someone who has been on their own Path for less than two years. The breadth and depth of personal experience are not measured in years, but in the richness and fullness that an individual gathers through their own steps on their Path. Part of that comes through discussions with others.

So, as I struggle with my own myopic view of what an Elder is, how can find my own role within the context of this label? Or do I really need to? I work in my Spirituality under the precept that I need to handle my own approach as my own. If it doesn’t conform to what someone else is doing, that is perfectly fine, so long as it works for me. As I learn more and more about my own Path, my own perspective, my own Path – I have started to realize that my divergence from what is essentially the mainstream of today’s modern Pagan Paths is not because of a desire to be different, but a need to follow what is a concern within my own personal Spirituality. And the resulting conversations with some of the newer Pagans on their own Paths is not about converting them to my way of thinking, but just pulling the curtain back on where I have walked and how I have managed to get here. I can show them the hows and whys of getting here…they still have to walk the walk. They still have to want to do the hard work that gets them to a point similar to this. I am not their Priest. I am not their Guru. I’m just me.

I have always worried about getting conflated, confused and packaged together with others. Enough so that it bothers me to a degree and level I never feel comfortable with. And I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to distance myself from others and their Paths. Especially when its easier to point out, I’m not them, I’m me. There are similarities, some very strong, but in the end, we are still different because we are not the same person. I have and will continue to follow in the footsteps of others. Not because I want to be them, but because in some instances its far better to follow their efforts than it is to reinvent the entire Wheel, particularly in learning the basics. Once I understand those basics, its time to place my own stamp of personality onto those practices.

For me, Paganisms, Druidry, Spirituality, Ritual and all that encompasses all of that is extremely personal and individual. What is useful for me, might work to some degree for another (or even not at all). There’s no judgment in all of that. Merely a different approach or experiential perspective. My role as an Elder is truly a simple one: be me, and be available. Talk. Discuss. Point others in the directions where you have been. Talk with them about your approaches. Provide advice when asked for. Try not to be judgmental about other approaches. Simply just be there. And you do not even have to embrace the title of “Elder”…you can simply just be you. Just another Pagan, living each day in service to your Gods, experiencing what life has to offer…and being there for others. In the end, this should be service enough to others because a safe place to discuss any topic is where and who I should be. And through all of that, none of it marks me as “special” – merely that like anyone else, I am unique.

Building Relationships With Our Gods in a Ten-Second Society

Ok…the title is a bit misleading. But it is derived from a conversation point in a panel from Many Gods West 2017 this year. And it does bend back to something I have heard quite a bit from people trying to work their way into a relationship with a God, Goddess, Spirit of Place, Spirit of Ancestor, etc etc. The typical question boils down to a similar cry from many of them…

How do I get a [insert God or Spirit of choice here] to work with me or talk to me? How do I connect with Them??

That’s not an easy question to answer, and at times, I have felt a bit awkward trying to provide an answer that might make sense or at least be bit coherent. Creating a relationship with one or more of the Gods (I am going to use this as a generic catch-all from this point on out – so please don’t get hung on terminology) is not a simple thing. In my opinion, it takes time; it takes effort; it takes personal sacrifice; it takes patience; it takes determination; it takes research; and it takes love. And to some degree, I would urge a little touch of caution in trying to create a relationship or connection. You never know precisely what you are going to wind up with – even after all the research and effort.

If you have read the blog, you know that I am a Priest of Crow. I am dedicated to Crow, and it took a long time for me to get to this point. Prior to Crow, there was Coyote. Coyote spent about two years putting me through a few tasks, all designed to force me to not take myself so seriously. Eventually, Coyote led me to Crow. From the beginning, my relationship with Crow has been a very slow, deliberate build between the two of us. First, we learned how to communicate between the two of us. Then, we worked on building trust for us both – a process that continues to this day. That was back in 2005-2006….I am unsure of the exact date. It took even longer before I decided to become a Priest for Crow. And there’s a long conversation about my aversion to the title of “Priest” that figures into all of that as well. But the point here is that it’s a long, complicated process. Coyote and Crow didn’t just appear in my Life and an immediate bond between us was formed. I am sure that others may have a different experience with their own Gods and the relationships that they have. But that is just not my case.

Currently, our modern-day society is fast-paced. News, information, and other things are available at near instant speeds to any individual. Through the magic of the internet, combined with the delivery platform of a digital phone, tablet, and/or computer – everything happens quickly. We can pay for our coffee and other food items from our phones, while en-route to the location we are purchasing those items from. The expectation is that our items will be ready for pickup when we get there, and we can skip the long lines to just waltz in and waltz right back out. Need information on something? Just type a descriptive word or phrase into our devices, and the information arrives at our fingertips at break-neck speed.

If all that can happen, why can I not create a relationship with one of the Gods through a simple five-minute meditation? I have already spent five minutes doing this, that should be enough, right? Well, my experience has been that it is just not that simple. In fact, in a manner of speaking, it is a lot like dating. Sure, the flirtation feels great – there is a promise of something more, but you need to come back, again and again, to continue to build on that interest. But building a relationship is about more than just making out and the hope of an eventual tryst for the night. There’s trust, bonding, building on so many other aspects of mutual interest, exploring differences and the avenues that this may open up. The same holds true for a relationship with the Gods. Spending time getting to know about your potential relationship partner will require some research. Reading Their myths, reading what other bloggers and writers may have to say, and even visiting sites that may be sacred to

The same holds true for a relationship with the Gods. Spending time getting to know about your potential relationship partner will require some research. Reading Their myths; reading what other bloggers and writers may have to say; even visiting sites that may be sacred to Them; invoking Them in your daily rituals and offerings; and even performing rituals that are sacred to Them. All of this requires research, study, gathering required materials, and practice, practice, practice. And even when it is all said and done – you might not even get a second glance. Much like trying to court favor with that attractive individual that you would like to have a relationship with; you can find all your effort was for naught. Because the Gods, just as we human beings do, have the choice of saying “no way.”

Fret not, you can still go through the same processes of devotion, adoration, and just essentially praising the Gods as you see fit. The only difference is that you may not receive reciprocation in your efforts. Sort of the same way that I adore Lzzy Hale, but she likely has no clue that I am alive.  😉

Probably the most key thing, in my opinion, is not whether you manage to create the relationship between you and your specific choice among the Gods. If you’re a hard polytheist – believing that all the Gods, Goddesses, and Spirits are distinct, unique beings – the fact that you believe is what makes your relationship with the Gods a beautiful thing. And this even goes for the monotheists that are out there. You may not have the direct-line that you were so wanting, but you do have belief. Whatever that is anchored upon is important, and a wonderful thing. No one should be able to wrestle that away from you. And who knows?? It just might be the start of something beautiful and special between you and the Gods. And it might even be a God, Goddess or Spirit you never considered.

Poem: Traversing the Storm

Traversing the Storm
2/9/2017

Smoke on the horizon
Or is that the fog of today’s news?
Harbinger of times to come
The Storm is here

Destruction and carnage
Focused all around without a shot fired
Only bombs generated by Twitter
Fueling the source of the Storm

No soldiers running towards the danger
Only soldiers becoming the danger
On a shore far away
Dealing with their own Storm

I am unsure that I can hold on
Or even survive this onslaught
I reach into the nearby darkness
Seeking tribe within the Storm

And tribe will be the answer
The necessary anchor stone
To survive the tempest-like winds
Induced by the arriving Storm

Grab my hand, hold on tight
With one another we persist
As individuals and groups, we resist
The Storm we have all foreseen