My Daily Life Away From the 24×7 News Cycle

The news cycle these days is hardly an interesting thing. Most of the time, it seems, that the primary focus is what President Donald Trump did. Or who is suing him on this day? Or what laws he’s thinking of over-turning. Or what lies he’s tweeting out via his infamous Twitter account. I have literally taken to checking in on the news once a week, because of the overly repetitive nature it has become – particularly with the national news here in the United States. A few years back, I could never be without hearing some form of news update at least four times per day. Nowadays? Well, not so much.

I get accused of being an ostrich when it comes to the news because I chose to lessen its impact on my daily life. My retort is that the news is essentially the same thing over a five to seven day period with all the infotainers on tv bloviating their opinions what this means or what significance that has. I can find better things to do. And on that single point, I consistently get challenged. What is that I choose to do that is more important than being constantly in-tune with the news?

Book-Reading

Tommy at the Beach
Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

My bookshelves are overflowing with books I have not read. I am a compulsive book buyer, but over the past few years, I spent more time in front of the tv zoning out to news coverage than I did reading. Thanks to the shrillness of the Hannitys, O’Reillys, Maddows, and Lemons of the infotainer news cycle, I have taken time to get back to the written word again. Currently, I am reading through three books, each in turn. Star.ships by Gordon White, Creating a Data-Informed Culture in Community Colleges by Brad Phillips and Jordan Horowitz, and Australian Druidry: Connecting With the Sacred Landscape by Julie Brett are all currently in the reading rotation and at various stages of completion/beginning. And I wrote notes as I read too. So my speed at completing books is a lot slower than it used to be. Unless the book is a fiction book. I rarely take notes with these types of books because I read them for the escapism of that particular moment. I truly had forgotten how much more relaxing life was curled up on the couch with the cats and reading a book and some soft jazz music playing in the background.

Doing Something

Not long ago, I bought an acoustic-electric guitar. Now, I am not much of a musician, to begin with. I enjoy strumming the guitar and picking out little pieces of songs that I can catch the notes of. I don’t read music. I could not tell you the difference between a C-sharp, and an E-flat. But I enjoy doodling on the guitar, playing just random combinations of strings and fingering on the fretboard. I imagine the same type of relaxing mood comes over those that enjoy drawing when they get a chance to tune out the world and just lay pen or pencil or crayon or chalk to paper or tile or whiteboard or sidewalk. Just a singular moment, where one can stretch their imagination and reach out to the world around them through their own Awen.

Take A Walk

IMG_0243This is a two-pronged item. Not long ago, I went in for a cardio-checkup at the insistence of my new Primary Care Physician. Given my paternal family history of males, heart issues are something I do have to worry about. The checkup found some small issues, nothing overly concerning, but I was told to get out and walk more than I have been. So, getting off the couch, and away from the tv is a good thing. But this also means leaving my iPhone behind, so the ties to the news cycle are not available at all. But I have also found that carrying some ear-buds with the iPhone, and some good somewhat quick-paced music on my iPhone does wonders as well. Besides, I d not really read news on my iPhone. My typical news consumption comes either in front of the computer or the tv. And getting out and walking gets me out of either of those chairs, which is the point.

Secondly, I am a fscking Druid. I should be outdoors! My job has me in front of a computer screen all day, in an office with no windows. By the end of the workday, I am craving the idea of being outside. And walking would definitely set me there. And to be brutally honest, being outside is a lot more entertaining and interesting than listening to the news.

Moderation in Everything

The old saying is that you should do everything that you want but in moderation. News consumption, in my opinion, is one of those things that should be placed in a degree of moderation. Yes, I do listen to the national news in moderation. I catch the news cycle on the BBC for 90 minutes on Saturday or Sunday. In that 90 minute period, I get everything that I really need to know from all around the world. After that…I’ll peek at news headlines from time to time during the week, but rarely click on the links. And in moderating my intake of the news, and choosing where I will get my share of the news, and when – I have also managed to find a way to hold my stress levels over things to a moderate level that is not wrecking my health, and killing my outlook on the world around me.

Now, all of that works for me. Maybe it will not work for you. I am not asking you to do any of this stuff that I do. You handle you. I’ll handle me. All I am doing is sharing how I deal with all of this…take it or leave it. But it is what I do to take care of me. And this does answer a few questions of how I handle all the depressing news stories. Yes, I read the stories. Yes, I get a bit demoralized when I read or hear the stories, just like anybody else does. I am not oblivious to what is going on. I pitch in where I can, to help out. But I’m just not going to let this stuff eat me up either. For me, I have discovered my limits, and choose to hold fast to those. That’s my measure of self-care.

–T /|\

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Improvising in Ritual? Learn the Basics First…Trust Me.

So, let’s ditch out of the talk of the impending “Storm”, shall we? There are plenty of folks writing their own perspective of that…plus, my focus is really elsewhere. Instead, let’s drift over to working within one’s own personal Spiritual practice and walk down a favorite trail of mine: improvisation.

Wholly committing to improvisation implies taking risks. It’s a philosophy of leaving yourself open to possibility and leaving yourself open to magic.  –Dennis McNally

The quote comes from the authorized biographer of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally. The reference is to the musical style of the band. In hundreds upon hundreds of shows, the band never played the same song the same way twice. Certainly, there were elements that were replicated as faithfully as possible, such as primary riffs and rhythm tempos, but solos were off-the-cuff – and sometimes even the primary elements of a song were taken in directions by various band members. As a group, they were tight enough to work with each change. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

I enjoy the music of the Grateful Dead (and its various spin-offs and incarnations) – enough so that I have somewhere around 2900 tracks, totaling approximately 18.7 days’ worth of continuous music. There is, for me, something truly magickal about the way they approach their music. So free, so pure, with a nearly jazz-oriented approach to just playing for the sake of playing.

A good part of what makes my Paganism comes from this perspective as well. Off-the-cuff, impromptu rituals for one (remember, I practice most of my rituals alone) that leave me so alive and in-tune with the world around me. It truly is a gorgeous thing to behold, at least for me. But there is a key to being able to work on such a high tight-rope without a net (so to speak), and it is similar in nature to playing music improvisationally.

Learn the Basics As Best You Can

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A picture taken by John Beckett at this year’s ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat. For some reason, John takes really awesome pictures of me. The dude has a seriously awesome touch in photography.

Musicians will probably say that individual solos are some of the things that they get to enjoy the most. That moment allows them to showcase what they are good, or even to experiment with a style or technique that they normally don’t get to display. It is a moment of creativity and playfulness that is the crux of why they enjoy playing the instrument of their choice. But before they could get to boogie down on these beautiful moments, they had to learn to play their instruments. That means taking on the basics, and practice, practice, practice. The same can be said for ritual. Learning the basics of the ritual format that you use is essentially to being able to spin off into riffs on what you would normally do.

And I actually speak from experience on all of this. When I first started on my Pagan Path, I was doing things within Wicca. Now, Wicca is not the right format for me. But in my initial training with the American Tradition of the Goddess, I was to learn their format for rituals. To say that I did not enjoy their format is an understatement. So, when my moment came to show what I had learned, I handled the ritual as impromptu as I could. I refused to use the traditional quarter notations, nor did I call the Guardians of the compass locations in a proper manner either. I themed the entire ritual concept around wolves, as the group I was working with were formed around the concept of wolves. It made sense to me. It worked, for me. I wound up being scolded for not following the proper format. I was also praised – by the same person – for my creativity.

Now, all of that had a negative impression for me. It also deeply imprinted upon me how Wicca was not the appropriate place for me to be. Several months later, I parted with the group and became the Solo Pagan that I am today. What I failed to understand was that the creative part was acknowledged, but would have been better accepted if I had shown my understanding and adherence to the basic concepts first. Now, a few decades past that point, I have grown a bit more in who I am, and comprehend the need for basics to be found first – and once those are understood, you can futz with the workings to see what you get. The basics give you the foundation that allows you to stretch your creative muscles across – sort of the same manner in which the bass player and drummer provide a background on which the guitarist can improvise without losing the crowd as to the familiarity of the song.

Do Not Be Afraid to Fail

I grew up in a family where failure was not an option. I was seriously afraid to bring bad grades home, as my typical punishment was to get the strap from my father. Sure, we could talk about the “abuse” that it was, but the point is that I was not provided the opportunity to fail. And in not knowing how to fail, I was always afraid of not being successful. Same goes true for ritual. I always obsessed over the idea that I *had* to get it *right*. Even if I had never done it before. I had to succeed. Failure breeds experience. When I did not get things right, I always examined the “why” of things…I always tried to see where I missed the point or where my effort fell flat. In essence, I was learning.

Thanks to a whole lot of folks within the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, I have learned that failure is nothing to beat yourself up over. Every year, at the Gulf Coast Gathering, there are mishaps, bad statements, incorrect placement of individuals, misunderstandings of where and when a person should be at this point and time in the ritual. Everyone makes mistakes. Even some of the more experienced folks have had their issues too. And instead of folks scolding others…there are gentle reminders and nudges to get people back into their roles and say their parts. This is lighthearted laughter and friendly cajoling over missed or misspoken lines. There is no judgment. There are plenty of smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement. Because people need to be allowed to fail, so that they can learn from those experiences.

Do Not Be Afraid to Succeed

And then there is the opposite side of that perspective: success. And I suffer from this more than anything else. The other day, I noticed that a recent post of mine, Devotional Practice – My Approach, had reached a level of reach on Facebook I had never seen a post achieve. My reaction was not one of “Wow, that’s amazing!” Rather, it was one of “Oh Gods, what is happening?” I am not really geared for large-scale success, because I truly do expect things to fail. This is a mindset trap that I need to dislodge myself from going forward, but I am sure there are others out there that feel similar.

So, you do the ritual. In the middle of the ritual, you try some magickal working. It has never worked before, why should this be any different, right? Except that it does work. Whatever it was that you were trying to do, happened. What’s next? Well, let’s not get a big head and think that everything else will work if we do things the same way again. After every ritual, I make notes about what I did. If it was a public ritual, I write notes about the part I had in the ritual (if any). How I felt afterwards. Was it indoors or outdoors? Anything of significance to my mind’s eye goes into those notes. And when I get ready for another ritual, I go through those notes. I note my previous feelings for similar rituals. And in my preparations, I try my best to find anchors from the previous ones to help me stay grounded and focused in this current one. And I decide what a “success” will be to me in today’s or tonight’s ritual. And I aim myself in that direction.

Now, one side of this that I have intentionally left out – how I approach all of this with my own devotional work. Why? Because everyone approaches that very differently. Even two people approaching the same God or Goddess. Our individual connections to the Gods are unique between us and each of Them. Trying to tell someone how to approach something so personal and distinct, in my opinion, is not useful whatsoever. Open yourself to your own Gods, and They will guide you on what is appropriate and what isn’t. That’s about as much advice as I dare give in that direction. I am not here to create a dogma of belief for anyone, other than myself.

Just remember…ritual can be your own free-form expression to the Gods. But like any improvisational musician, you need to understand the basic framework of ritual. For me that is the framework within OBOD. Once you are comfortable with that framework, then improvisational work will become a useful tool in your workings. Yes, I did it backwards…and there is a lot I am still unlearning, so that I can relearn it in a proper framework. But I still have the heart of an Al Di Meola or a Pat Metheny when it comes to personal ritual. And improvisation is still such a joy to me…even if I did learn it in a manner that makes learning regular frameworks a bit difficult for me. I hope you can take something away from this post, and place it into what you do – and have the Awen spring up unexpectedly in everything you do.  –T /|\

Finding Roles, Setting Agendas and Goals for the Storm

Is Rome worth one good man’s life? We believed it once. Make us believe it again. –Lucilla, ‘Gladiator’

I have had a few folks comment that I am an unlikely individual – as the Pagan, Polytheist, and Priest that I am – to be involved in military service. My enlistment oath binds me to the protection of the Constitution of the United States. Even now, nearly twenty years since I left military service in 1994. But protection of the US Constitution is only one part of what my eight years in the United States Air Force were about. It was also about being in service to others. Protecting their freedoms, not just here in the United States, but throughout the world. I am in no position – or shape – to be a member of the fighting forces of any nation or group. But there are plenty of other ways to continue serving.

img_9678Lucilla’s statement, shortly after Maximus’ death is meant to be a reminder to the people of Rome that were witnessing the “event” that there is a cost to be paid for every action. As a military member who swore the oath of enlistment, which binds me to the protection of the Constitution, I am aware of the payment that ultimately may be asked for. During Desert Shield/Storm, I knew the fear and the knife edge that one’s senses are constantly in. The world of military combat is not a playground, as the movies seem to make light of. Even those that try to give a realistic depiction, such as “Black Hawk Down”, do not provide a complete understanding of the experience.

The United States military taught me how to fight. Not to win some encounter. Nor did they allow me to hit “reset” when the battle was going wrong for me. I was taught to fight to survive. To use whatever means were necessary to live. That includes using anything as a weapon. It is one reason that I am extremely careful about what physical encounter I will wind up in, those techniques and concepts are hard-wired into me – thanks to the military’s training techniques. It’s not something you just turn off like a water faucet.
Because of all of that, I avoid protests and marches. Not that I am unwilling to defend myself or someone else. But that I am always worried about the potential of crossing the line of being in control of my sense and awareness, and lashing out in techniques and concepts that I might not be completely aware of. As has been said before, it’s a matter of learning to pick your battles, as well as knowing your limits.

For a short while, I thought the Morrighan was looking to add me to Her team. I was worried about this for a lot of reasons – the biggest one being that I was unsure of what would be asked of me and didn’t want to find myself in a place where instinct overcomes rational thinking. Aside from that, the Morrighan scares the shit out of me…so I was relieved when I figured out that it was merely a group of Valkyrie that had come to deliver a message to me: get into better shape. But the point was crystal clear, I need to be in a better position (read: physical shape) to continue in my role as a Protector. So off to the doctor I go for checkups. And I find out about an issue with my heart. It’s not a big thing, but it certainly needs to be watched. Plus, the doctor noted that if I had to go into open-heart surgery to replace my bad valve – it would be touch-and-go as to whether I would survive. Second wake-up call.

I am a Protector. That is a role that I understand quite well. I am not an activist. Direct confrontation with the expectation of potential violent repercussions is not where I want to find myself, as I have noted. Yes, activism is definitely a role that is required of some, which I will not deny. Everyone has their own roles to play during these periods of heightened confrontation, and potential rights removal. Some call it #TheStorm, others call it “Tower time” – whatever you call it, and it’s here. There’s debate as to the intensity of everything that has been underway. But I am reminded that what one person might call a “hurricane” could be construed as a “steady downpour” by another. But that’s for other folks to determine for themselves. A long, steady downpour has dangers, just as a hurricane does. The interpretation is up to the individual, and their own perception.

The question that Lucilla asks is still just as valid: “Is our world worth the life of one good person?” What is our individual honor worth in all of this? What do we want to achieve at the end of all of this? Can we stop arguing with one another long enough to actually achieve something? We’ve made massive strides towards equality across the board over the decades. We are more aware of how issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and age (among others) affect the daily lives of people all around us. If the desire is to find true equality, let me tell you that we may not see that happen for many more generations. That is long, arduous battle that will continue long after we have passed beyond the veil.

So does the length of the battle mean we need to slow down, and take it easy? Hardly. We need to continue to find ways to achieve the many small victories that will come about. Those small victories will provide the pathway to what we are seeking to achieve. If we move the ball no further down the field than we already have, is it the end of everything? Again, hardly. But we do need to acknowledge that everything has gotten better. If we only see the obstacles and the failures, we fail to see the achievements that show how much has been possible to this point.

We also need to realize our roles in all of this, and acknowledge where we are, individually. Some folks are made to be activists and on the front lines fighting every step of the way. That’s not my role. My methodology for “winning” battles would provide a negative perspective that could be used against what is trying to be accomplished. My role is in defense. Defense of those who cannot defend themselves adequately. And for that, my methodology may seem crude and unreasonable…but for those being defended, it may be the difference between their survival and something worse. Everyone has their own role.

Finally, I am not trying to be overly dramatic here. Just trying to push a particular point forward – if we are struggling for equality of all, we need to (a) realize our roles, and (b) come together to reach those goals. That means setting aside petty differences over word usage, individual roles, and whatever other nonsense we can dream up. Believe it or not, there are people whose lives literally hang in the balance. Imagine if Matthew Shepard had someone there to stand in his corner during his ordeal. Imagine if someone in the apartment complex where Trayvon Martin was killed had stepped outside and intervened? Imagine if more protectors took up their roles in the world around us, and refused to sit back and wait until one of their “own” were attacked or persecuted? It’s not quite a war zone out there…I know the difference. I’ve been there. But it certainly has the feeling that a lot more folks need to be dedicated enough to step in wherever they see injustice, persecution, and bullying happening around them.

Is Rome worth one good man’s life? Is standing up for those that need defending worth one person’s life? My answer is simple. If it comes to that, the answer is yes.

 

Devotional Practice – My Approach

As I have mentioned before (quite a few times), I am a Polytheist, a Priest of Crow, and maintain my own devotional practice to Him. I have a few friends that are also Polytheists and have their own devotional practices with their own Gods and Goddesses. And our individual practices all look different, which is as it should be. I’m not interested in making my own practice look like theirs. I’m interested in making my practice work for the relationship I have with Crow.

My Backyard Stone Circle
My Backyard Stone Circle

At Pantheacon this year, I attended several concurrent sessions throughout the time I was there. When I was choosing what sessions, I was going to attend, I did so with a mindful purpose. I wanted to attend sessions that would help me strengthen my relationship with Crow and Coyote. At the time, I was also going through what I had perceived to be a potential start of a relationship with The Morrigan. That turned out to not be the case and was also colored by a certain perception bias I had instilled on things as well. It turned out to be a set of Valkyries that came to deliver a point. When I looked through the sessions, three stood out to me instantly, and I knew I had to attend each of these.

The three sessions, “Beginning Devotional Practice“, “Advanced Devotional Practice” (both by Silence Maestas), and “Brigid: History, Mystery & Magick of the Celtic Goddess” (by Courtney Weber) each had an immediate attraction for me. While I have a daily devotional practice working with Crow, and from time-to-time with Coyote, I am always open to the prospect of new ideas or techniques. The Brigid session, on the other hand, was an odd choice, given my so recent flirtation with Fliodhais. Still, I knew I needed to be at all three of these sessions. I’ll discuss the Brigid session in another blog post though.

I had attended Silence’s session at Many Gods West last year. So, I had a decent idea what I was expecting in these sessions. I knew there would be an open discussion, allowing members of the audience to share their own thoughts and perspectives. Last year, this was an invaluable tool for me in gathering my thoughts concerning Fliodhais, and where I thought things would be going. As it turned out, the flirtation was just that. And eventually, my devotional practice has set back to Crow and Coyote, with some extra work with the various Spirits of Place up here by the Red River that forms the border between Texas and Oklahoma.

In the initial stages of the beginning session, Silence talked about the basic aspects of starting a devotional practice. Choose a single thing to start with, and do it until you are extremely comfortable. Then begin to add other elements as you are called to do so, and continue working with your daily practice. My start came from greeting the Sun. But what the start is, does not matter. Silence added in some characteristics of Devotion into the conversation: Choice, Constancy, Perseverance. The choice allows you to become an emotional experiencer.

Why Have a Devotional Practice?

For this question, I cannot really answer for anyone else. Everyone will have their own set of reasons. For me, the start was with Coyote. I was seeking a Guide that could show me pathways I had never considered in my own Spiritual approach. In return, I was offering to be Their hands and feet within this realm. I spent three years thinking I could make a connection with Germanic Gods and Goddesses. I wound up with Coyote answering my desire for guidance. It made sense. I live in the middle of Native American lands – the southern edge of the central plains. I knew Coyote to be a Trickster. And I spent a lot of time being humiliated by Him before I finally stood up for myself. ‘Why would anyone want to work with me after making me into such a mockery?’ ‘At least you understood the point of the lessons. You need to stand up for yourself’ was the answer I received. And thus, started what has been nearly a decade of solid work with the first of my Trickster Gods.

Choice

You choose to do this practice. No God or Goddess will compel you to do any of this. They may ask, but it is still your choice. You have the Free Will to say no. Granted, there are consequences to saying ‘no’. Just as there are consequences to saying ‘yes’. Be sure you are prepared for either perspective. Just as well, be prepared to receive no answer at all. Too often, I have heard Polytheists say that they feel like they are doing something wrong when no God or Goddess answers them, directly or indirectly. That they feel they are doing their worship and devotion wrong when no Gods approach them. Worship and devotion are your choices; not a compulsion, not a directive. Sometimes, the Gods don’t answer. Just because there is not an answer or a manifestation, should that be the definitive answer as to if you believe? Remember, the Gods are not Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that just spit out the answers and Their attention whenever you ask for it or manage to punch in the right combination on the keypad for Their attention. The Gods do as They see fit as well. They also have choices. They also have Their own Free Will. Remember, devotional work with the Gods is a relationship, and relationships are cultivated – not created with the snap of a finger. Trust needs to be developed. Relationships are grown.

Constancy

Perhaps the easiest aspect of Silence’s Characteristics of Devotion is that of Constancy. If part of your devotional work takes place at the butt-crack of dawn (as mine does), then be there. That consistent behavior provides the religious context of what you are doing. And honestly, your devotional practice needs to be something that you can do easily. You do not have to wind up looking and acting like a Catholic Priest or Nun in your devotion. My devotional work requires me to be there. If I happen to be wearing a Rush concert t-shirt and a torn-up pair of jeans – then that works. Constancy is not about dressing the part – it is about being you. No matter how you look. If “robing up” is something that helps get you into the frame of mind, then do so. Just remember, you may not always be somewhere that you can just do a quick change into a set of ritual robes. As I noted, part of my devotional practice is greeting the sun as it rises into the morning sky. Even when the clouds obscure it. Even when it is raining outside. Or in the case of my trip to Ireland two years back, standing in a waiting area in the Dublin international airport. And while I stood there and looked out the window, with a cardboard coffee cup in hand and my carry-on backpack hung over one shoulder, it was a magickal moment indeed.

Perseverance

So, you have made the motions. You have set up your devotional practice. You have decided which God or Goddess you want to work with. And They do not answer or acknowledge you. What now? Well, keep at it. A relationship with a God or Goddess is like any relationship you have with anyone else. it can take time to build the trust necessary for a relationship to be established. You do not have to pitch a piece of expensive jewelry into a lake to show that you have devotion. Well, maybe you do. That is truly up to you, and the nature of your relationship with the God or Goddess that you are flirting with or Who is flirting with you. That is a choice for you to make. The point is that whatever relationship you are cultivating takes time. And once the connection is there, like any relationship, obtaining depth requires constant work (remember Constancy?).

This is a relationship of choice that you are building. A choice that was made between you and a God or Goddess. Certainly, They are beings that we do not ultimately comprehend completely, but this is still a relationship. Just as it took some work and time to develop trust between yourself and your significant other, the same holds true here. You want that intimate relationship? That takes work buddy. And that work requires you to be constant, work through difficulties and misunderstandings, and to choose to have this. If you are wanting it just to have a God or Goddess notch on your altar…you’re not approaching this as you should. Remember, relationship = trust, trust brings intimate relationship, intimate relationship = commitment, commitment comes from hard work.

A Caveat – I Am Not an Expert

Now, I have stated this before. I have also stated this in the professional conferences that I have led sessions on SQL coding. I am no expert. I can only relay what I have learned, what works for me, and what does not work for me. I am not the final arbiter of what is or is not devotional practice for anyone. Well, except for myself. In that realm, I certainly am the expert and final arbiter. All I can really say is that anyone who wants a devotional practice can develop one. You must commit to study, practice, and ritual to achieve what you are wanting. Read, do, repeat. Or as the bottle of shampoo notes – Lather, rinse, repeat. And above all else, look carefully at what it means to cultivate a devotional relationship with a God or Goddess. Like any relationship, the prime commitment is time. Be sure what you are getting into before you do it.

–T /|\

My Perspective on Transactional and Transformative Paganism

(cross-posted from http://moon-books.net/blogs/moonbooks/my-perspective-on-transactional-and-transformative-paganism/)

IMG_7076Another round of being on the road finds me blogging from a hotel room. And essentially setting this one on a time delay release. That all sounds so foreign to my brain. While I like traveling, doing it all the time just does not sit well with my usual frame of mind. It is really alright though…because I will be home or not far from it for most of the Summer. Anyways, enough of my suitcase woes. 🙂

A while back – during another journey of suitcase-time – at Pantheacon, I attended Pantheacon this year. Probably the last time for a couple of years. Three years in a row put enough of a dent in my finances. While there, I attended Kristoffer Hughes’ presentation entitled “When the Last Leaf Falls”. It was a wonderful presentation circling the topic of gracefully helping those who pass away in the last bits of their time here, as well as helping those who stay behind when the individual passes on. It was quite a lovely talk – and will likely spur a few more blog posts as I continue to come back to my notes and think deeper about what was said. However, one thing really stuck out enough for me to write a side-note on it:  transactional Paganism.

For a short while, I had a huge question mark next to this, as I continued to really think quizzical about this concept. Eventually, I decided to look up the concept of “transactional belief” and wound up at a Christian-oriented blog, which I will not link here. The post was titled as “Five Signs You Have a Transactional Relationship with God” and followed along these five points:

  1. You’re busy all the time. Essentially, the point was that life in this manner is broken into the stuff that is Spiritual in nature, and stuff that is not. And that it is far more important to do the stuff that is Spiritual.
  2. You think God demands excellence in all things. Fairly straight-forward.
  3. You overuse self-conscious spiritual language. In this instance, the notation was that everyday conversation included statements like “Spirit-filled, and “Christ-oriented.”
  4. You wonder if God is punishing you when something bad happens. Again, fairly-straight-forward.
  5. You hide feelings about yourself that you’re afraid to admit to God or close friends. Essentially, this is about being able to view one’s self in the light of being a “normal” person regardless of past “transgressions”.

A lot of that wound up being some interesting points I can see in my own personal approach to my everyday Spirituality and Life. I am not really busy all the time, at least not within my Spirituality. In my everyday life at work, I am extremely busy. But I am one person tasked with the work of four. Every day is a struggle to keep my head above water. In my daily Spiritual life, I am provided with tasks to accomplish on behalf of Crow from time to time. I am tasked with the perspective of being a Protector, but while I keep a daily vigilance over all that is required of me – It is not enough to take up every moment of my daily life. Furthermore, I do not really see a need to separate my mundane and Spiritual lives. I see both bleeding over into the other – as well as informing the other to one degree or another.

Excellence. Crow expects me to try my best, but I am not rejected outright if I wind up flat on my face from the effort. Rather, I am encouraged to try again, and again, and again. I have my own faults within life, and I don’t believe the Gods are expecting us to be anything beyond the best that we can do. And self-conscious Spiritually language?? Well, if me constantly muttering “Gods-be-damned” when I screw something up, then maybe so. As for the last two…Gods help me…

Now, when I think of “transactional Paganism” I think more along the lines of expecting something from the Gods for our efforts. Sort of like the way that most shallow-minded Christians seek the answer to their prayers from God.

Dear Buddha, please bring me a pony and a plastic rocket…    –Captain Malcolm Reynolds

You know these types of prayers. Where God is treated as an Automated Teller Machine for individual wants, needs, and desires. For me, this is where I tend to see the concept of transactional Paganism. A trade of this action for that reward. I am not sure about any of you, but I decided to serve Crow because I wanted to. The knowledge that gets shared with me is really nice, and I appreciate it, but it is not what I expected going into this relationship. And devotion to a God or Goddess is exactly that – a relationship. And in that manner, the love, kindness, and caring I received from Crow can be considered to be a form of transactional relationship.

Kristoffer also mentioned that we can benefit more from transformational Paganism within our community. Where our actions, words, and even gestures towards others can provide a momentary relief for those who are experiencing the last days of a loved one or their own last moments before their leaf falls. Those gestures, words, and actions can help provide the appropriate dignity for others – a dignity that is sorely missing in today’s medicalized version of death.

Perhaps, we can also look at our own roles in transformational Paganism in our own daily practices, and routines. Instead of being offended by the openly spiritual motions, words, and gestures of others that pray openly to a monotheistic God within a triune setting – perhaps if we noted that we didn’t follow their beliefs, but we’re happy to say a few words with them or sit silently as they pray out loud before a meal. We might make a difference in their own day, provide them with a little dignity concerning their own piety, and an example of what being open to other faiths might look like.

Sure, maybe I am an over-idealized hippy that believes that the world can find some common ground if we all just tried. But you know what? I am ok with being labeled that way. Because it is not far from the truth. And honestly, I would rather acknowledge the dignity of another individual’s beliefs – even when they are diametrical opposed to my own – than to show my rear-end and dig the animosity trench a little deeper and wider.

 

Dealing With My Own Issues of Self-Care

I have four other blog posts in various stages of completion that I have been working on for the coming weeks. However, this particular post is being written this morning, April 21st, because – well – this has been on my mind now for less than twenty-four hours. A small warning, a lot of this deals with my health issues, and while all of that touches aspects of my personal Spiritual approach, some of it is not easily relatable. This is not, by the way, a “woe is me” post. Rather, this is me being open and honest about who I am, and how the real (mundane) world touches my approaches to my Spirituality.

I have Type-II diabetes. Most likely, this came from my 12-pack a day Dr. Pepper habit that I had when I was in the Air Force. I worked the night shift, and caffeine and sugar were the easiest things to keep me moving. But regardless of all of that, I have diabetes. This means that I have to do some extra things to take better care of myself. I strive to eat better, and while I have not cut sugar completely out of my life, I have tried my best to curb my sweet tooth. And openly, I have not always been successful at it.

I have been with the same Primary Care Physician for nearly sixteen years. However, when I moved up here near the Texas/Oklahoma border, the sixty-mile, one-way trip for doctor’s visits became a near impossibility for me. Literally, I would have to take a half day off from work, just for a simple checkup that took fifteen minutes in the office. So, at the beginning of this year, I switched to a new Primary Care Physician much closer to me in the extreme northern part of Denton, Texas. New doc means starting over from scratch. During our “interview” process (my first visit), she asked about my paternal family health, particularly the males.

Well, there is a definite pattern in all of that. My father had diabetes. I know most, if not all, of his brothers were also diabetics. My father passed away from a sudden heart attack, and I do believe that heart attacks were the causes for the passing of my uncles as well. This led me being sent to a Cardiologist for testing. Unfortunately, all of that was dictated during my long period of travel for Imbolc Retreat, my professional conference, and Pantheacon. So I put things off. And finally, got back to going to the cardiologist two weeks ago. We talked about the family history, my diabetes, my blood pressure which does not seem to go down with medication, and tests were scheduled.

The first test came back as “normal” which disappointed me. I wanted “weird” because I do not consider myself to be anything close to “normal” of any capacity. Okay, that was a bad joke. But the result was somewhat puzzling. Still, my heart got a passing grade. The second and third tests were yesterday. The stress test, where they hook me up to a bunch of wires, set me on a treadmill and have me walk, also turned up normal results. There was an effort to get me to run, to which I told them they would have to set some kind of danger behind me, and an individual I needed to run just a touch faster than. I do not run. I gave that stuff up for Lent five years back…and in my mind, Lent still continues to this day. But the results were good. Another passing grade. The next test was the Electrocardiogram, where they essentially do an ultrasound of the heart.

I was lubed up in that disgusting gel, and the monitor was moved all over the place. Sound recordings of my heart from various positions were also made. And the initial prognosis was considered to be “good”. A short consultation with the doc and he decided to place me on Lipitor to see if we can get the blood pressure down that way. Satisfied, off I went home. I have two Transact-SQL presentations to prepare for the Tulsa conference this coming week, so I had plenty to pre-occupy my mind.

Around 7pm, the doc called me and left a voicemail. On that voicemail, he noted that mitral valve (WTF is THAT?) in my heart was leaking. At that point, I zoned out of the rest of his voicemail. My heart is leaking. Well, blood is the only thing that is in there, so I started wondering what was going on? Did my heart find the iceberg? Are Kate and Leo running around my body trying to find that final refuge where they can hold on to their love before the entire body slips beneath the waves?

A short bit of research on the internet (I love diagnosing myself with Doctor IP’s help at the various websites that exist to scare the shit out of you), and I find that this diagnosis is a normal part of aging. It is definitely not something to just blow off. This will need to be continually watched. And on listening to the doc’s voicemail a second time, the notation was that there was “slight leakage” include some “tightening of the heart’s walls”. All normal indicators of age. But there were a lot of notations on the websites about needing to be active again.

Feeling like I needed a moment, I poured a small shot of whiskey and sat it next to my mouse on my desk. Where it sat. The smell was the incredible aroma that I know and love of Bushmill’s. But did I really need a drink?

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“Not really, but you cannot put that back in the bottle.”

“Then what do I do with it?”

“Bring it outside to the circle. Give some of it to me. Give the rest of it to the Others.”

And I did just that. Crow, for me, is always ever-present. Nearby. Watching. Commenting. I have no idea how much Crow may have known about all of this, but there have been moments where I have been told about getting out of the house more often. Walking. Bike riding. Moving about. Being more active. And I understand a bit more now.

I do not have a Grove that I am a part of. Nor do I have a group of folks that I administer to. While I am a Priest of Crow, I have no need for the formality of that title or role. I am here to do. Not to just be. And in a roundabout way, I am being reminded that my time in this incarnation is finite. And there are things to still be accomplished. And for that to happen, I need to take care of myself.

As I sit and think about this, I am starting to realize something that seems to be a difficult thing for so many of the people I know and cherish within the Pagan community that have established themselves in various roles. We all do a wonderful job of being supportive and helping care for others. Many advocate and support those who have a need in the ending times of their lives. And these folks are all highly empathic and deal with so many things that place others on the floor in bundled masses, unable to do for themselves. But Self-Care by many of these folks is a terrible thing. We look out for so many others, we rarely see where we fail ourselves in our own Self-Care. Perhaps, it follows the colloquialism that we are too close to the forest and cannot see the trees. We see the needs of others, and yet have difficulty recognizing the same issues and frailty within ourselves. Or we ignore it, knowing that others do not receive care and support if we stumble and fall. Whatever the case may be, many folks in leadership roles, supporting functions, etc need to start becoming aware of the need for Self-Care and how to handle that. Because if we do not take care of ourselves, how can we help take care of others?

I have said it before. I am not a leader. I am nobody’s Priest, but my own. But I do talk with others, listen to their perspectives, and offer advice on how they might move forward. A few folks have told me that I am an inspiration to their own efforts to be more into their own Spirituality. All of that makes me a touch antsy because I do not see myself as anything special. I am just me. I am no confessor. But I am a human being. I can listen. I can be there when there is a need. I am not a solution. But we are all “tribe” together. And to that, I have an obligation to be a part of. My personal practice may be one of a solitary nature, but I am still your Brother. And I have an obligation to take care of myself.

As a final thought, I remember the struggle I had with trying to determine whether the Morrigan was calling to me in various dreams that I had. In the end, it turned out to be a series of Valkyrie that had come to admonish me over my lack of exercise and taking care of myself. Why the message delivery from the Valkyrie; to this day I do not understand. But I wonder how much all of this is tied to that? That will definitely be something to really contemplate going forward. The Nordic Path does not call to me whatsoever. But I believe that if I want to unravel that little “mystery”, I will need to get outside, get moving, and put myself into better shape.

–T /|\

My Druidry Order Bowls Better Than Yours

Last week, I got a barrage of Emails from a few folks who started asking if I was a member of Ár nDraíocht Féin, or as it is more commonly referred to as ADF. Instantly, I knew what had happened. Someone that I am friends with had posted something on their blog about the ADF. There are a handful of folks out there that think that I follow directly in the wake of my friends – particularly those who are far more well known in the online Pagan community. The assumption is made that if that individual or these individuals are into this, that I will be following in those footsteps as well.

Now, as someone who walks a Path of Druidry on my own, I find that a bit insulting. I might walk my Path, at times, with other folks. But at the end, where my footsteps fall is determined by me. And considering how many other folks have walked these Paths in the woods before me, it is inevitable that I will cross over the places and locations that others have already been. But let’s set that to the side because it is not really the thing that flared everything up for me in the end. One Email exchange continued in the questioning about why I am not a member of ADF.

It is, after all, AMERICAN DRUIDRY. Should you not prefer Druidry that appeals to you as an American? Besides, the way they approach Druidry is far better, far more nuanced, and better understood.

This one scorches a lot of buttons with me, admittedly. I did a lot of research into the wide variety of Druidry Orders and groups out there before I finally settled on the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD). I was not looking for what was “better” but rather what fits closest to what I believe. OBOD’s approach was more in line with how I approach my own Paganism, and therefore was where I wound up. Not to say that none of the other approaches had a similar appeal to me. The differences….truly are not that important. Plus, anyone looking to determine whether one Druidry Order or Group has the better appeal for you – I would suggest doing your OWN research. Taking my word that OBOD is best for me, does not mean it would be best for you. Each individual has their own way of approaching their Spirituality.

img_9678I will discuss, for a few moments, the appeal that OBOD has for me. There is an emphasis on working within yourself to be able to work with others outside of yourself. Following the lessons contained within the three grades is – for me – about strengthening your connectivity with yourself, and the community directly around you. There is no emphasis placed on a particular set of deities or a particular pantheon. I am able to use the framework of OBOD to set my own perspective of the Gods, the Ancestors, and Spirits of Place onto it. And through that, I can find a better connectivity to the landscape and community directly around me. That is not to say that such an approach is not available in any of the other Druidry Orders and Groups- I am quite certain it is there. But OBOD’s approach is what is more similar to my own approach.

Now, the concept that “American Druidry” should only appeal to “Americans” smacks so hard of Nationalism, that I have a difficulty trying to place that within what I find Druidry to be. That is not to say that I have the be-all, end-all understanding of what Druidry is – merely that I just cannot fathom the concept of Nationalism being used within the construct of Druidry as I understand it to be. To me, this smacks of a competitive thing which I just cannot fathom within this same construct as well.

I posted on this on Facebook where several of my friends (most of whom are Druids of one type or another) had plenty of commentary on. Some of the points made were on the differences between OBOD and ADF, as well as notations that I should just join ADF so that I could answer “yes” to those that asked if I was a member of ADF. That, honestly, would be fraudulent on my behalf were I to do it. I enjoy attending ADF events. I enjoy being in ADF rituals and even participating, to the small degree that I do. But I do not feel a draw to ADF. Joining just for the sake of joining and being able to tell people I am a member of both orders would be the wrong reason to become a member. In my mind, attending their events and spending time in fellowship with their members is more appropriate. Quite a few of the ADF members that I know here in Texas are extremely close friends to me, as well as others that I have met from the northwest United States. These folks are family to me, but being family does not earn me a pass at being an ADF Druid.

One other aspect of the Email exchange I had with this particular individual was about how ADF was better at this that and other than OBOD. The earmarks, in my perspective, of competitiveness. “My Druid Order bowls better than your Druid Order.” Oh fucking puh-leeze (yes I use Anglo-Saxon descriptives – I even answer to a few). What makes one order better for your own Spirituality is something that occurs WITHIN you. But what happens within you should never be the benchmark of what would make a Druid Order right for someone else wanting to traverse a Path of Druidry. Ever. Perhaps ADF bowls better than OBOD. Who knows? Maybe we can get a worldwide bowling tournament setup between all the Druid Orders and Groups that are out there. Then we can settle that point. Maybe come back to it in another four years, right? Like the World Cup? ::sigh:: Some of this also boils back to painting someone else’s approach to Druidry on to me. I have talked long and wide about how labels are not a useful manner to trying to understand the world around us. There is always an exception to the rules.

So, in trying to bring this to a close, I would like to find a more positive point to finish with. Every Druidry Order and Group provides a different approach and perspective to its adherents. And every adherent will bring their own unique understanding to that. In the Facebook discussions, Jean (Drum) Pagano, the current Arch-Druid of ADF and a Senior Priest in ADF provided a perspective that really opens the perspective in a manner that echoes my own:

…I like to describe the family of Druidry, where we celebrate our similarities and work to understand our differences all under the banner of “Druidry”. I am a Druid.

To this, I completely agree. Druidry is not about competition. Druidry is about our approach to our Spirituality. Our connection to the world around us. Our respect and devotion to our own perspectives of the Divine, in whatever aspect or understand we find in ourselves and outside of us within the world. Like Drum…I am Druid. My approach through the OBOD framework is merely the context that provides an understanding of where my approach comes from.

But I still believe my Druidry Order can bowl better than yours. Or even play darts better than yours. And none of that matters one whit.