The OBOD Camp Experience – Gulf Coast 2018 Version – Day Two

So ends another day at OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering camp. And it certainly was a lot of fun.¬†Today was one of my favorite times in camp: Bardic initiations. Now, if you’re looking for a description of what takes place in a Bardic initiation, you won’t find it here. If you are wondering about the experience of a Bardic initiation, I would invite you to take some serious consideration to having one done at an OBOD camp – if you are inclined to start down a path with OBOD.

The reason I love Bardic initiations is because I get to see the wide-eyed experience that I had play out on the face of an individual taking their first steps into a wider world. It is an experience I will cherish and treasure for the rest of my life, as I am sure all the other new initiates will as well. Plus, new members on the Bardic path means new members in OBOD which means growth – as I said in yesterday’s post. Plus it reminds me of where I have come from to be where I am now on my Ovate grade path. Yeah, I get all warm and fuzzy when I think about stuff like that. ūüôā

But that was only part of the camp experience. The day started off with a session on bio-regional animism, which led to some wonderful discussion concerning the living aspect of all things around us. Plants, animals, rocks, and all manner of existence was discussed in terms of living relationships and towards the end, we crafted a ritual using an OBOD framework that utilized local animals and plants for the elemental aspects of the directions. I was in the group to the west, and we eventually picked the wild boar – and no, I didn’t twist anyone’s arms into choosing this because of the Screen Door Boar saga.

Once we had finished that, it was time for lunch, followed by a discussion led by Philip Carr-Gomm. Originally, the segment was to be the future of Druidry, but Philip had talked about that around the fire the previous night – so he discussed how to work with visualization in your meditative work. He had us working on our own flying carpets in our minds, and considering where the energy that moved the carpet was located (hint – it was three inches underneath the carpet). This was quite an interesting concept to consider, and he even touched on how to be in your Inner Grove, and within the Physical realm at the same time – and the sensation associated with this. He even worked with all of us as a group to give this a try…and to be honest its not as difficult as you might think. And it is quite the sensation to experience.

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Seven Sisters Oak

A second trip to the Seven Sisters Oak had been planned, and I decided to go along. I had seen the Seven Sisters Oak during my first year, and didn’t go on the field trips in the second and third years. However, having not seen it in a while, I wanted to refresh my memories of the location. Arriving at the private home where the Oak resides, I remembered a tree in a further corner of the property that had drawn me to it on my first visit. Sure enough it was still there, and still as magnificent as I remembered it being. Seven Sisters Oak is estimated to be 1700 years old and has a spread base of around 139 feet according to its Wikipedia page. To say it is an astounding sigh to behold is an understatement.

Upon our return to camp, we had dinner, and the initial setup of folks for Bardic grade initiations were eventually underway. and as I noted the ceremony was beautiful and moving (for me) as it always is. After the initiations were complete, many of us gathered around the camp fire for some story-telling, jokes, limericks (which eventually reached the dirty level after the youngsters were off to bed), and music from Bran, which is always a magickal treat. Soon though, folks began to reach their limit and the camp started to reach the end of the evening, and I eventually made my way back to the hotel, where I am typing this to you.

As I mentioned before, lots of conversations happen. Today was no exception to that rule. Camp is always a special time where old friends connect, and new friends get welcomed into the fold. And for me, these conversations are always the special treasures of being here. No one has asked for a long walk to talk (yet), but the weather is a touch warm Рso I am not sure folks want to take the charge to go get too sweaty. And the special topping to all of that? The massive, loving hugs you get Рeven from new folks Рas we all continue to bond anew every year. I have said it before Рthese folks are my family, and this yearly gathering is my home. And not because of the location Рits the people that make it a home to me. I cannot thank the Gods and Goddesses enough for bringing me into the orbit of these people. My life is continually enriched by all of them.

–T /|\

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The OBOD Camp Experience – Gulf Coast Gathering 2018 Version – Day One

I am now back at the hotel after the start of this year’s OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. As I munch on some yellow Peeps bunnies and slam back a Dr. Pepper, I am thinking of what has taken place over the course of the day. Check-in at camp was at 1 pm, so breakfast was at the hotel, and lunch was at Don’s Seafood. That is a ritual of its own. At the first Gulf Coast Gathering four years ago, this was where lunch was had prior to check-in. And it has been the same for each of the four years. Plus the meal does not change either – consisting of the seafood gumbo…though this year I opted for the small bowl, which is a large bowl in my mind. The service is always good, and the location is always clean – so these folks continue to get my business each year.

Camp arrival sparked many hugs and reunions with family that I only see once a year at this event. It is always a joy to see these folks, and physically reconnect with them. As I have said – these folks are family. One of the Bardic initiates from the “Screen Door Boar” incident initiated into Ovate at the East Coast Gathering last year, so it was nice to catch up with him. However, one of the Bardic initiates from when I initiated into the Bardic grade at the first GCG surprised me with the news that he had finished his Bardic grade and was to be initiated into the Ovate grade at this year’s GCG. To say I am thrilled beyond description is an understatement. We shared huge hugs over the news, and I look forward to being a part of his initiation later in camp. This was an immeasurable surprise to me, and I am full of excitement.

img_1835Opening ritual was fun. We had a wonderful ceremony. I took on the role of North, and got to watch other folks step up into other roles of the directions that were all new faces in this participatory function. New folks means growth, in my opinion. And I could not help beaming from ear to ear at my fellow cardinal directions. A Gulf Coast Gathering 2018 medallion was presented to Philip Carr-Gomm in the opening ritual, and then the cardinal directions were asked to pass out the medallions that had been provided in four paper sacks to the other participants in the ritual. Quite an unexpected moment, but definitely a treat to be sure.

img_1836Once the opening ritual was finished, it was time to gather folks together for the evening meal, which is always a masterful thing in camp. The food that gets provided here at Gulf Coast Gathering is Cajun spicy, and super excellent food. Though, one individual and myself who were talking about old computer technology got chided for being too chatty and slow in line. It happens. ūüôā

After the meal was finished, another new moment for GCG Camp happened, as we played “Druid Bingo” – a game where a list of information items are on a card, and you had to find folks that could answer one of the questions from the folks in camp. The design was to get folks to talk with one another and thus get to know each other a bit more. The entire exercise was a massive amount of fun, and was enjoyed thoroughly by all.

Most folks retreated outdoors to the campfire, where I understood that Philip gave an impromptu talk until jet lag started to take hold. I stayed indoors and caught up with a few folks on a wide variety of topics, including a round of networking to help them get a little more connected with other Pagans around the world and outside of our local area (they are also from my area). There was also a long-ranging discussion on beliefs, perspectives, points of view, and some work-related talk (ok, whining and complaining on my end) until the evening started to wear down on everyone, and we all started to head to our respective locations for some needed sleep.

This is one of the great things about camp – the conversations with other people. You get to learn their perspectives on a wider range of topics. And this can lead to opening your mind to a new way of seeing the world around you. While I have my own set way of seeing the world around me, interacting with various aspects of this world and beyond – it is always refreshing to me to see topics that I am locked down on my way of understanding, from the perspective of another. It may not sway my perspective, but it does help me to remember – not everyone does things the same way that I do. Nor do they perceive things in the same manner that I do. And for me, speaking as a single individual, this is an important aspect of what Spirituality is all about: finding your own perspective while respecting that of others.

One thing that I have started to formulate in my mind, is where I want to go with my knowledge-base that I am accumulating in the work I am doing in the OBOD grades. When I first started, it was all about the titles…becoming a Druid within the OBOD framework. However, it is becoming more than that in my mind now. I want the knowledge, and the title is a nice piece of that puzzle – but when I finish, I would like to find a way to become a tutor within OBOD – to help others, while keeping them going and making forward progress in their studies. I realize what these Gwers are doing for me – helping me with a stronger base to my own personal beliefs, providing me with a knowledge-base and skill set that will help me through both my Spiritual and mundane perspectives in my life. I really hope to reach that potential going forward in my studies and my life.

Yes, being in OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering helps to facilitate a lot of this type of thinking. There’s the pleasure of seeing people that are so near and dear to your heart, as well as the new folks – some of whom are participating in their very first steps in OBOD. And getting the chance to participate in rituals, initiations, conversations and fellowship with people that you “click” with. It is an experience that is incomparable to any other for me. I would not trade this for anything in the world.

The OBOD Camp Experience – Gulf Coast Gathering 2018 Version – Getting There

I am in Covington, Louisiana (opposite side of the lake from New Orleans) for the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. This is the fourth year of this little gathering – and the fourth year I have attended. And I do not see myself missing any into the future, unless work or illness gets in the way.

IMG_1593Its a short drive here from home. About 600 miles, around 9-10 hours if I am not pulling the trailer with me – an additional three hours if I am. This year, well – I am not traveling with it. Thanks to my own fault, I don’t have a current registration on the trailer – and I am just not going to pull it without current paperwork on it. But its OK, its just one trip. I will take care of that when I get back. My truck gets a range of approximately 450 miles on a full tank of gas. But with the trip being mostly interstate driving, the truck’s transmission optimizes that rate to expand my range to nearly 600 miles. In other words, I can nearly make the trip one way on a single tank of gas. Nearly.

The drive, for the most part, is typically interstate fare. Not a lot to see out of the windshield, and a lot of time to think. Thanks to some downloaded “Down at the Crossroads” episodes, I get to listen to excellent conversations – and usually learn something while I am driving. And while I could take a flight to New Orleans, rent a car and drive across the bridge – I do enjoy the distance driving because I do get a chance to reflect on various things and allow my mind a time frame to wind down a bit from the stress of work. Plus, I’m not a fan of flying – if I were completely honest.

So what draws me down here for three days every year? Why do I always make the time to be here? Its not a really complicated answer. This gathering is home to me. I did my Bardic grade initiation here in the gathering’s first year. I am still in contact with most of the other initiates who also had their Bardic initiations during that gathering. Last year, I had my Ovate grade initiation here. The year previous to that one was the year that the “Screen Door Boar” incident took place. The people that come to this gathering are more than friends to me – they are family. And even if the gathering moved to another nearby location, it would still be home to me because it is not about the location – this is about these folks.

At this year’s gathering, I have asked to help out more with the initiations for both Bardic and Ovate grades. I intend to provide myself to help out more during the ceremonies, because I no longer want to just be a spectator. I want to help facilitate the experiences of others. I look forward to the conversations I will have over the next few days with the folks here – both those that I already know, and those that I have yet to meet. As an individual who is in a solo situation, the times where I have the chance to fellowship with other Pagans is generally few and far between, aside from online. Plus, I know how awesome, and intimidating my first moments at an OBOD camp were – and I want to be able to extend my welcoming hand to those newcomers as others had done so for me.

Now, others are drawn close to the land here. And its an interesting mix of bayou swamp and Louisiana woodlands around the camp. Me? Not so much. My last two years of high school were spent in the northwest corner of the state in Shreveport. And the woodlands there are quite similar to the woodlands here. And its just not a part of the land that really calls to my soul. Not like the northern tier of the Rocky Mountains do. For me, those mountains are the true calling of home. My trip to Glacier National Park (a three-day drive, but worth it to me) was an experience I will never forget at any point in my life. But the bayous of Louisiana just do not have the same call for me. The first year of the gathering, the weather was nice and nearly Spring-like. Every year since has been much cooler and far wetter. This year, the wet times have already happened. So there will likely be some mud. The weather is looking good, so maybe some things will dry out and some more walking can be had.

This year’s guest will be Philip Carr-Gomm, the current Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Philip before or hearing him speak in person. I have had the chance to catch him in the recorded versions of “Tea With Philip” that he does on Facebook. However, the timing of the live broadcasts via Facebook Live tend to happen while I am at work, so I rarely get the chance to participate (though I would love to). I am looking forward to hearing Philip speak – particularly in a segment entitled “The Future of Druidry” which is something I have been wrestling with in thought for quite some time and have even blogged about a few times here on “Life With Trickster Gods“. It is quite likely that I will be blogging about this again in the very near future (‘natch!).

This will be the first of a few blogs that I will write while I am here. The point is to provide my own point of view of what you might experience when coming to this gathering. Like I said, I consider the folks who run this to be family, and for me this gathering is home. Thus I am quite biased in my perspective, and quite enthusiastic as to the experiences I have here. But hopefully, you – whoever is reading this – can glean an idea of what this is all about, and hopefully come to an OBOD camp – here in North America – or wherever else one may be held. And hopefully, in the future, I can find time (and money) to make an OBOD camp outside of North America – and expand my own personal experience of what OBOD offers in these camps. But as I said before…for me, the most important part of this is the fellowship with other Pagan folks…and family that I rarely get to see outside of the internet.

May your day be magickal and provide opportunities you did not realize existed.¬† –Tommy /|\

Cutting the Tightrope or How I Learned to Be One Person

How do you balance your personal life with your spiritual life?

It is an interesting question, and typically not one I receive from Pagan-type folk. Mostly, I hear this a lot from people who have recently found out that I am a Pagan,  Polytheist, a Druid, or even a Priest of Crow. My short, flippant answer is that I try my very best to not compartmentalize my life. The truth of the matter is that I do not always succeed at that process, but I do try my best. Perhaps, and I am just guessing here, a lot of this comes from a disconnect between the way that I live my life and the manner in which I suppose the average Christian lives theirs. So I figured this would be an interesting moment of exploration, so let us see where this deer trod may lead us.

Before I get started too far down this line, let me caution you a bit. I am about to make some generalizations about some aspects of what I believe is the typical Christian adherent. This is not to say that every single Christian is this way, merely what I have observed as both a former practitioner of the Catholic and Southern Baptist sects, as well as that of a sometimes interested outside observer. My intention is not to find any manner to insult people of this faith, but to draw some contrasts between how I approach my own personal Spirituality and how I have perceived the Christian faith being approached. Now with that bit of business out of the way…

There are three areas that I have managed to denote some differences – utilizing compartmentalization, approaching the God(s), and finding interconnectivity. I am sure, if I tried really hard, I could find a metric ton of other aspects to compare and contrast. But I am not trying to write a book here. Merely trying to bring up some discussion points or food for thought.

Compartmentalizing

So, I will start with my original statement. I try my¬†very best to not compartmentalize my life. What this means, is that I try my very best to not separate¬†aspects of my life from each aspect. My Druidry, my belief in the Gods as individual¬†distinct Beings, my professional life, my personal life, my strong belief in Animism – all of that combines together to form who I am today. An easy form of defense is to ensure that none of these flows too deeply into another by separating each element into its own aspect. I see a lot of this in both Pagan and Christian practices. In fact, I used to practice this quite deeply. I would not talk about my professional life with Pagans, and not talk about Spiritual beliefs with those I worked with. What I wound up with was two very different versions of me, which I had trouble reconciling in my own mind. In Christian practice, I see a lot of this put into practice. People would live their own lives in their own way, and suddenly slip on the Spiritual personae when they came to church on Sundays and Wednesday nights. They would save their very best clothes for when they came to church and practice manners and compassion solely on those days. As if their beliefs were something that can be turned on and off by a switch on the wall. And in a manner of speaking, this was how I was living my life. Once I removed this and started to live my Spiritual life “out loud”, I started to find how other things started to fall into place. I will get to this in a bit more detail in the section on interconnectivity.

Approaching the God(s)

Most of my work with my Gods comes through meditation and dream-work. I spend time out in my backyard stone circle praying nearly every day. Many times, I have had Christian folks shocked by that admission. Prayer belongs to the Christian faith, right? Wrong. I use prayer to ask for guidance from Crow, Coyote, and several others when it comes to my daily life. The final choices of how I proceed are still mine. My Gods do not force me down a Path because of some destined fate, but regardless I do seek Their counsel from time to time. In a manner of speaking, this differs from what I have managed to observe of some of the Christian adherents. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are¬†all apparently a set of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where a personal¬†need is prayed for. I need this. I want this. I have been faithful to you, please provide me with this. but to be fair, I have also observed some of the Christian faith utilizing prayer to seek guidance from their God or His chosen Savior. No need for a set of shiny prizes to drop from the slot because a faith-coin was deposited in the slot and the handle cranked. Just simple desire to have some form of guidance for their lives. Granted, there is still a measure of one’s personal destiny to be followed, slavishly in some instances like the “Hero’s Journey” in the writings of Joseph Campbell. First, this happens, followed by this, and resulting in this. Step by step instructions, if you will.¬†I am sure that there are some things that my Gods guide me towards, as my hands are the tools necessary to accomplish something on this plane of existence. But the only destiny I have, the only journey I walk, follows the choices I make as to which Path I see as correct in my life at that moment. Sometimes, those are bad choices….and I learn from that. Which, for me, is the essence of life – to keep learning and experiencing.

Interconnectivity

I make no secret about what I do for a living. I work as an Institutional Researcher for a small two-year college. In short, I handle the statistics generated by the students’ activities within the college. I report this information to the US federal government and the state of Texas’ Departments of Education. This usually gets most people to cross their eyes trying to understand the concept, so I tend to fall back to a more generic explanation – I am a Data Science Researcher. My job requires an ability to converse with database systems, as well as utilize statistical programs that parse data into information. When I finally stopped setting my life in small containers (compartmentalizing) and really allowed the conceptual aspects of my Druidry to help inform my daily life, my analysis of that information started to be altered. See, Druidry is about connections for me.

A few years back, I took a year-long study course with Cat Treadwell, and the lessons contained within that program really showcased the ideas of connection for me. Where does my food come from? How can I see the changes in the season by the world around me? Well, every day I drive a small county rod to work, which brings me between two pastures. On either side of the road, I got to see new calves shortly after their birth as well as their growth over the course of the year. I watched the fields change as the cycle of the year wore on. And my eyes were opened to some smaller measures of connectivity I had not noticed before.

In my work, over the last two years, I have watched a similar cycle of growth, change, and connectivity. New students come to the college and start their education. Through my statistics, I can mark groups of students for further study, and see the cycle of their lives. Some students blaze through their programs, some have the number of classes wax and wane through the semesters – obviously trying to balance their personal life with the desire to advance their education. Some struggle with mathematics classes. And eventually, they transfer to a four-year institution, graduate with a degree or certificate, or stop their educational advancement altogether. As I have watched and studied group after group after group, I have seen trends which I want to analyze a bit deeper, as I see potential areas of connectivity. I attribute this to my Druidry, which helps me visualize so many of the strands taking place in the data before me. My Druidry also informs me that every single number is a student – a person – whose story is unfolding before my very eyes.

Certainly, I am not trying to tell anyone how to live their life nor how to approach their own concepts and understanding of Spirituality. What I write here is the result of nearly thirty-two years of being a Pagan. There were plenty of missteps, lots of wrong turns, and a countless number of holes in the Path that turned my ankle. if your desire is to find a belief system that provides step-by-step instructions on how to become grounded within your own faith….good luck with that. One thing I have learned in traveling from the Catholic faith to the Southern Baptist faith into Paganism (in its many different aspects that I have tried) is that there is no set of written instructions. Much like taking a walk through woods to enjoy the outdoors, there is no set way to find your own Spiritual Path. If your focus is on the sounds of the birds in the trees, or wanting to listen to the sound of the breeze pushing through the branches of the trees, or wanting to revel in the warmth of the Sun on your skin, or marvel at the wondrous landscapes in front of you-you will find what you are wanting if you have some patience. The same holds true for one’s Spiritually, at least in my experience.

And the Gods? Or God? Or Holy Trinity? Or what have you? Not that long ago, I thought that the Morrigan was calling me to Her battle line. It was not Her. And it was for a far different reason. But when I questioned what She would want with me – a good friend told me: “The Gods call who They call.” Just try your very best not to turn Them into some kind of ATM that spits out presents and gifts based on the greed of your capitalist heart. Not only do the Gods deserve more respect than that, so do you.

And balancing your life between your Druidry (or what have you) and your mundane life? Let the two intersect as deeply as you are able to. You will find yourself having a far richer life when you are not trying to serve two different versions of yourself. But that’s just my opinion. Your mileage will likely vary to one degree or another.

–T /|\

The Morrigan is Not a Valkyrie

Most of my work with Crow comes through dreams and meditations. Having worked with Crow for some time now, there is not a lot of hard work aimed towards determining that what I am feeling is coming from Him. But when working with other Gods, it is not really as easy to discern just who I might be working with at that moment. Take, for example, the past few months. I was “introduced” to what was noted as a “Warrior Queen”. Knowing only The Morrigan as having such a title, my assumption was that this must be Her. Visions and interactions were shadowy, and She was dressed mostly in black. However, the clothing was quite modern, and each time, Her hair was a different color – usually black or blonde, though there were a few times of brunette and red. None of that matched anything I knew of The Morrigan, but I also admit that my knowledge of Her is sketchy at best. to be completely honest, The Morrigan scares the shit out of me. I was not at all “thrilled” about this set of interactions or what might be asked of me because of it.

cropped-img_28671.jpgSo what to do? Well, it was time to put the thinking cap on for a bit and think things through. I do not classify myself as a “warrior” of any sort. The US Air Force trained me to shoot a variety of rifles and pistols and provided me with hand-to-hand combat training. I was also handed¬†the philosophy I continue to live by in physical confrontations – I don’t fight to win, I fight to survive. That makes any item within reach a weapon. But let’s be really honest. None of that makes me a warrior. I have fired shots at individuals that have fired shots at me – with the purpose of killing one another. Yes, I have been in battle before. That still does not make me a warrior. The Morrigan tends to call Warriors to her Battle-Standard. So I am fairly confused as to how I would be in that grouping. In essence, I am on shaky footing for understanding the “why” – and add to that, what knowledge I do have points elsewhere.

Many Polytheists that I have talked with crave contact with the Gods. Enough so, that some of them have acknowledged that they readily accept the first contact that they get as being who they were wanting to work with originally, only to find out later that they were not completely correct in their assumption. Folks, I work with two Trickster Gods, both of whom enjoy making a fool out of me quite a bit. All of that has taught me to be a bit cautious with any interaction I have with the Gods. Over time, I have developed a little toolkit that I find to be helpful.

First, knowledge is power or in this case, knowledge is the shining light to help get some answers. I journal all of my dreams and meditations, so I have a record of details, conversations and the such. Once I have that, I start hitting books, articles and even having conversations with other polytheists about what I am experiencing. And I journal what I glean from these efforts as well. I compare what I learn with what I have experienced – and note the differences and similarities.

Second, and this sounds fairly odd, but I ask pointed questions in my meditations and dreams. “What do you want with me?” “Why am I the logical choice?” “What are you offering to me in return?” In a weird way of thinking, your initial interactions with a God or Goddess is a bit like a job interview. Working with the Gods is a two-way street, and you have just as much ability and control (personal sovereignty as John Beckett would point out) to say no. Just because a God or Goddess appears and says “I want this!” doesn’t mean you just roll over and give in. And it definitely is not always a one-way street where they get and you give. It can be that way, but that throws so many red-flags to me that it would have to be a very “special” moment for me to consider. But that is me. every individual is different. Just as the relationship between each person and a God or Goddess is unique as well.

Third, is taking your time with the decision. Great, you have been approached by a God or a Goddess to work with Them. You do not have to give your answer right then and there. If They demand an answer immediately, remember – you do have the choice to say no. There are consequences to replying in the negative. They could choose to not work with you again, no matter how much you might plead. There are consequences to saying yes as well. :: looking over my shoulder at Crow and Coyote ::

I decided, in the end, to take my time with working with this “Warrior Queen”. I talked with a few friends who do work with The Morrigan and discussed the interaction with them. A few noted my military background, along with my experience in combat, as perfect indicators as to why She might want to work with me. But each of them also noted that the hair color differences, as well as the more modern clothing (which I can only describe as something out of a hunting sports catalog – mostly muted colors), might be indicators of someone else. A few interactions later, I found out the difference…

She sat in the middle of my Inner Grove, on the large boulder where I spend most of my time listening to Crow. Her blonde hair hung down from underneath a brown baseball cap. Leaning against the boulder was an older, worn bow, and a sheathed short sword. Her outfit was a black t-shirt, faded blue jeans, and black hiking boots.

“Are you The Morrigan?” I asked.

She leaned back and laughed heartily. “No,” she managed between gasps. “That silly Corvid told you that? You should know better than to trust a Trickster to tell you the whole truth!”

It turned out that she is a Valkyrie. And that the other visions were also Valkyrie, and thus the different looks. I am being nudged back on to my path. I am not a warrior, I am a Protector. My role is not that of battle unless it is necessary. In essence, I was being scolded for not taking better care of myself and not staying in the role I was meant to be. A friend had mentioned that perhaps this may have been Skaldi. When I inquired along that line, I was told that maybe She would take an interest in me in the future, but that was not the purpose of this.

Sometimes, you need to be nudged back into the Path you are supposed to be on. And sometimes you need to be reminded that you are not doing the things that you are needing to do. And here’s the best point of all – sometimes, your dreams and meditations may be an interaction with the Gods, and sometimes its just a reminder to get your ass back into your practice. The Morrigan is not a Valkyrie. And Trickster Gods….well, let’s just say I know better. And a touch of research, reference and conversation with others that know better – goes a long way.

Finding My Footing – A Ronin in a World of Social Justice Warriors

img_9678Continuing in the vein of being a bit more open and transparent about where the current tide is taking me, I would like to discuss a bit more of what I am, and what I am not. I am a Pagan. I am a Polytheist. I am a Druid. I work with two Trickster Gods: Coyote, and Crow. Currently, there is a Goddess starting to manifest within all of that as well. I am unsure of exactly who She might be, merely that She has been referred to as a “Warrior Queen.” At this particular moment, Her identity is not nearly as important to me as what has been conveyed to me. My role in the world around me continues to evolve (surprised? I’m not).

We are all aware of the surging battle that rages all around us. This has been labeled as a “culture war” by many on the ideological Right, and even some on the Left. However, I would submit that it is not that. Certainly, the subtle colors of our collective culture are one of the outcomes of what will happen, but this is not a battle solely for that. This is a battle for inclusion and equality. For the chance for everyone to have their voices heard and given equal consideration and weight in the overall discussion of how our society is shaped. There are many folks fighting these battles that use the nom-de-guerre of “social justice¬†warriors” for themselves. Let me be clear. This is not me. Nor is this role what I am to assume as has been conveyed to me. I am not here to battle. I am here to protect, assist, and care for those as best I can.

Perhaps, a better term for me would be from the Samurai culture – that of Ronin. Ronin were Samurai who had lost their master. According to Bushido code, Samurai that lost their master were to commit suicide rather than live a life of a master-less wanderer. So, in some sense, Ronin was not always considered to be a flattering concept. However, a Ronin Samurai always tried to live by the rest of the code of honor, despite not following this one precept. According to some legends, as well as some fictional films and books, Ronin wandered the countryside, seeking only to right wrongs. A rather ambiguous, yet romantic vision, of a do-gooder wandering through society, fighting for the good of those who cannot fight. Let me stress here, this is mostly fiction, but the overall concept has a certain appeal to me – both on a personal level, as well as from what I have managed to gather in meditations.

I am not an individual that seeks a fight. Not even a debate or an argument. I have opinions and have no problem setting my perspective into the public square on nearly any topic. I am not available to debate the point or even to argue its merits (or lack thereof), merely just setting a different point of view out to be seen and taken (or not) into consideration. The same holds true for physical confrontation. I will step between two people involved in an argument that seems to be escalating. I am not there to fight, but rather there to allow cooler heads to prevail. I will defend myself if the need comes to that. However, if I am backed into a corner, and provided no alternative route to walk away, I will fight. I learned to fight from basic self-defense in the United States military. The techniques I learned are not methods that make me proud of who I am, nor do I consider many of these to be honorable. I will not fight fairly. I do not fight to win or lose. I fight to survive. And because of this methodology, I choose not to fight until there is no other alternative, including walking away.

As I noted, I am not a Social Justice Warrior. I will not pretend to be such. I have friends throughout the spectrum of politics, spiritual beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and social strata. I understand why people are fighting for the causes that they believe in. And I am quite proud of what they are doing. They are stepping into their convictions and doing what they feel is relevant and necessary. I am also saddened when I see aspects of this hijacked and taken to obvious extremes. I also realize that there may come times when my position of being a protector will put me at opposite ends of the spectrum from them. At this time, I have not been placed in that position…yet. With the wildness of this current Storm, I am cognizant that anything can happen.

I carry my staff nearly everywhere I go. Walks in my neighborhood. When I go places (it stays in the cab of my truck). Hikes in the nearby wild areas in north Texas near the Red River. Even to work (again, it stays in the cab of my truck). My staff is for far more than walking and holding up my fat ass when I stand. I am aware of its usages outside of its easily recognizable uses. I continually hope and pray (yes, Pagans and Polytheists DO pray) that I never have to utilize it outside of my mundane uses. Thus far, I have only threatened its usage as a weapon once. I hope to never have to do it again during my existence in this incarnation. Yet, I am always prepared to do so.

As for my Lady Goddess. She was referred to as “the Warrior Queen”, which I have assumed to be The Morrigan. Her hair has been different colors in my meditations and dreams. At one time, it was red, another time it was jet black, and another it was blonde. As far as I know, this does not indicate that She is likely to not be The Morrigan. Some suggestions from those I have confided in have been that She may be Brigid, or even The Morrigan’s sister, Badb Catha. Being that Her name translates to “Battle Crow” I think this might be a little more likely. But admittedly, my research has been minor on this at this time. Whoever She may be, the point is being made clear to me. Much like the romanticised figure of the Ronin in the Samurai culture of Japan, it is time for me to find myself in the role of Protector again. I am not here to fight for a cause of any sort. Rather, I am there to ensure that balance is maintained so civil discourse can be had. Where and how that happens…I am unsure, but I will keep my senses open to find where that is necessary. And that does not necessarily translate to physical means, of course.

A Measure of Public Self-Accountability

So I am back from that whirlwind retreat-convention-convention trip that has been the last eleven days. The beginning was Imbolc retreat, in the middle was a professional conference, and the end was Pantheacon. At each one, I managed to find a few more elements to add to who I was, as well as develop even more questions about who I am, where I am going, and – as Kristoffer Hughes states – inspire myself. To finish that particular quote – “…because how the fuck can you expect to inspire others if you cannot inspire yourself?”

Indeed. Getting the opportunity to be around so many creative and talented people at each point, there was a lot to be inspired by. And best for me, this has developed into several exciting short-term goals, as well as a few super-long-term goals Рin my mundane life, my professional, and even in my magickal life. I am not fond of compartmentalizing aspects of my life, and while I can combine some aspects of each one into various projects and moments, such as using magickal techniques to help visualize data models Рto keep things separate is sometimes a necessary component of keeping my sanity. I mean, think about how bad things could get if I started scrawling Cabalistic symbology around the edges of my whiteboard while diagramming an extensive data model? Right?? Or if I started using hardcore statistical inference when trying to get ready for some magickal rite. I could take an informal survey of the various Spirits that I encounter during the ritual, and utilize non-parametric techniques to determine the statistical relevance of the responses, Naw, it is far better to keep those things apart from one another. For my sanity, and for the sake of not opening a portal to another dimension.

Goals; however, are good things to have. A few years back, on the advice of John Beckett and a few others, I started writing a daily journal. That journal now spans seven full Composition notebooks, with an eighth currently in progress. In those journals are everything I encounter, everything I perceive, and everything I dream of over the course of each day. Some entries are several pages in length. A few of the entries are three to five sentences. But these document my goals, the things I want to accomplish in my life, and how well I do (and sometimes do not) manage to reach that goal. Every once in a while, I pick up one of these journals and read where I have been, and create an entry comparing that day with today. For me, that is extremely important because I can chronicle the changes that I see utilizing how I felt in the past as a contrast.

For a long while, I lived a not-so regimented life. I floated wherever I wanted to; I did whatever came to mind, and to be honest, I wasn’t precisely the most reliable friend to have in the bunch. A lot of that was me being completely rebellious to the uber-structured life I lived for eight years in the United States Air Force. Everything was scheduled, had a step-by-step process, and if there was not a manual for it – they would make one. There was even a manual for how to take a shit. No, I’m kidding. But it sure felt like there was one. But that rebellion made me a very chaotic person, and I am still living down aspects of all of that. Plus, I also still find pieces of that in my current life, even though I try to be a bit more structured, and a touch more regimented in how I approach my daily Life. This includes my magickal and Spiritual Life.

See, for me, everything gets tied to ritual, which can be a fairly structured process. I like off-the-cuff ritual formats, but when you work with others – that stuff just does not work well. Well, usually. If you have a group of folks that you just “fit” with – off-the-cuff stuff can become some really special magick. But you just don’t walk down the street and bump into these folks at the subway stairs. Ritual with structure is important. Important for the how, important for the when, important for the why. And if you discard all of that stuff, and try to handle ritual as an off-the-cuff, impromptu New Orleans funeral, what many might refer to as a “Jazz funeral“. That stuff might coalesce with your chosen Gods, but I find that a structured basic format is more comfortable for working magick, as well as putting other practitioners in the ritual at ease. For my personal, solo stuff…jazz hands it is! But there is an appropriate time and place for that.¬†A structure is definitely necessary for public ritual or ritual within a group, from my experience.

The same goes true for the professional life. We use a ticketing system to keep track of data requests and work completed by the Data Analysts in my group. Without that ticketing system, a data request can fall through the cracks, and wind up not being delivered to an internal or external customer that has need of the information. With just a touch of structure, we can ensure that things do not get missed. Provided that people use the system properly.

My journals serve a very similar purpose. Not only is this an issue of finding reliability with continued, measurable action, at the end of the day, I use my time with pen and paper or keyboard and fingers to provide a moment of self-accountability. I can write whatever I want. Shit, I can even lie to myself if I wanted to. But rather than play personal mind games with the journal – I choose to be frank, brutal and honest in what I write. I do beat myself up quite a bit because of one error or misstep here or there. But I also spend time writing about the things I did right, or even the things I learned. After all, this is why I write in my journal in the first place. It serves the purpose of essentially being the little reminder to my brain of what went right, what wrong, and why I think things wound up in the manner that they did.

Over the next few blog posts, I am going to explore a few things – who I see myself as, my relationship with the Gods, and why I find myself staring down a particular Path that I am totally unsure of. As I noted in a previous blog – Life continually changes. It is not how it changes that provides the measure of context and quality for me, but rather how I approach, handle and incorporate each change. And in some ways, some of these changes are about to place my feet on an old, and familiar Path….with different shoes on my feet, so to speak. And for this, I would like to document it openly…for whoever would like to read. Call it a measure of public self-accountability, if you like.