Thoughts on the Public Face of Storytelling and Ritual

At Pagan conferences and gatherings, I tend to be seen carrying a yellow or white legal pad. That is me and my note-taking. And I have a copious amount of the stuff. Despite that, I suck at detailing where and when I wrote these notes. Some are easy to remember, others – well, not so much. This afternoon, while I was waiting on a particularly rough query to run its course, I flipped through one of those legal pads and came across a question I had written, but with no side context or anything else associated with it. usually, these are the signs of a “thought out of the blue” that happens to me from time to time. Like a stray bit of conversation fires off a neuron in a completely different direction.

Where did storytelling go? Why does storytelling seem to go the way of the Dodo? Are we collectively too meek to be leaders when it comes to the Bardic Art?

Well, its not a totally fair question. Storytelling has not disappeared or gone the way of the Dodo bird. It certainly does exist, just in formats that we do not see immediately as storytelling – movies and songs, for instance. We see storytelling easily in book or written form. Discernment is not that difficult for plays, although seemingly cloaked in plain sight much like the movies. However, the format we seem to crave the most happens around the fire at the campsites or around the firepits of the backyards. And it is here that this art seemingly shrinks into the darkness beyond the fire’s reach.

Much like anyone else out there, I have a running theory as to why this seems to be the case. However, as I dig deeper and deeper – I begin to understand that my theory fits into smaller segments and regions than it does as an expansive concept. See, I notice that there is a lot of fear towards public performance. So many folks are afraid of flubbing their lines, having people laugh at their momentary fsck-up, and/or being the butt of a joke. or maybe some of them are allergic to the spotlight, such as me. Or a combination of things. Or maybe something different, but the point is still there – being adverse to being in the spotlight for whatever reason.

I see this a lot in public ritual as well. Nine Hells, I was definitely there. I remember my first Gulf Coast Gathering. The main ritual has parts divided between the three grades. As a fledging member of the Bardic grade, I was super nervous at having a speaking role during the ritual – even though I had the ritual script in my hand. Everyone wanted the parts that had the fewest lines or one of the directions that spoke best to their personality. Me? I volunteered to take the part with the most spoken lines. Why? Because no one else wanted the role. yeah, that is definitely me – championing the underdog, in this case, the ritual role that no one else wanted. I was seriously working myself into knots getting ready for the role. Here’s a hint – I did just fine. I flubbed a line, and no one got upset. The next year, I participated in more than one ritual, again with the same speaking role as a Bard, and I started to add vocal inflections, vocal volume, and to a smaller degree, gestures. I got compliments on what I did, which was nice, but I had more than one person comment on how what I did in that role (which is the first speaking role in the ritual – another sweat-inducing panic moment) helped set the tone for the ritual.

Moments like this, standing in front of the fire and thanking the Gods for the safe travels of all, used to frighten me. (Picture by John Beckett)

So what in the Nine Hells does any of this have to do with storytelling? Well, the public ritual is as much about storytelling as it is about being a rite of worship. We tell the stories of the Gods and Heroes of our mythologies. We have to step out there and be ready to take our role, be our part, become what we are in the ritual – a part of the story. And stop worrying if we stumble and fall. Just get up and do it. If you trip and fall, brush off your cloak, get up and finish. And remember where that fscking tree root is next time!

Two years ago, again at Gulf Coast Gathering, I did something I had never done before – I got up at the Bardic Fire and told the story of the Screen Door Boar – a Bardic Initiate adventure from the previous year. Getting up to tell the story, very few people knew what I was going to do. I was literally scared to death, again afraid that I was going to flub a part of the story, which I did at least three times. My bigger worry was holding people’s attention and being entertaining for them. Apparently, I was. But I seriously was nearly brought to a stand-still a few times, thinking that I was doing things wrong. Again, the point – try. Even when you don’t succeed, you still learn. And if you want to be a storyteller, try again after polishing up what you are doing. It takes practice. practice leads to confidence. Confidence brings out the best in you and allows your story to shine. But to get there, you have to try.

Back to my theory. When I was in high school back in ::mumble-mumble:: (1980-1984), we had classes in Public Speaking and Drama. Some of us really got into both or one of these classes. Others, not so much. Some who got into Public Speaking also got into the Debate team. All of these put students in front of other people to speak. Their work was criticized, refined, massaged, and improved over time. Repetition and experimentation in technique helped people get better over time. Again, some excelled at this. Others, it was not their area of comfort and ease. Sound familiar? Repetition? Refinement? Improved technique over time, coupled with hard work and patience? That is correct – nearly the same formula for ritual or even magick. I know some schools still teach public speaking, have drama clubs and debate teams, but the emphasis seems to be less and less than it was back when I was in high school.

So are we collectively meek as leaders when it comes to the Bardic Arts? Possibly. Sometimes, I feel like leaders can stifle the creative growth of some of the more timid members by continually casting these folks into the smaller speaking roles. Some folks who lead are worried about the way a public ritual goes because of the way it affects the people who have come to join in the ritual. Flubbed lines, stuttering speech and the such can stifle some of the ecstatic expression of a ritual. That is a proper role for a leader to consider when designing a ritual. But the growth of group members is also a role for a leader to handle as well. That requires patience when helping others realize their untapped potential. It also requires carefully challenging these folks to step up into these difficult moments, encouraging them when they are having trouble feeling their way through the role, and providing constructive critiques of their approaches.

Part of most Pagan practices are rituals and gatherings where individual expression can not only shine, but make the difference for the adherent as well as the participant. Growing that expression in others is not the easiest thing in the world to do, much like growing crops in your backyard or allotment. You have to spend time with what you are growing, nurture it, give it the chance to be something beyond what even you envision, and know when to get out of the way and just let things grow. And that takes time, experience, and learning on your part as a leader.

Thankfully, at Gulf Coast Gathering, I have had fellow OBOD members who have helped me to be more open and outgoing and less of a wallflower. I have helped to make ritual experiences fun, informative, and reactive for many of the new folks that have come to the gatherings. My experience in helping out has allowed me to develop relationships with others that come regularly to Gulf Coast Gathering (and some not so regularly) that I likely would not have if I had not been shown how to come out of my shell. This coming year, I hope to find a wallflower or two to add to the little band of rogues and tricksters that has been slowly developing in size and scope. Why? Because these gatherings are about learning, worship as individuals and community, advancing on one’s Spiritual path – but it is also about being fun. And to be honest, participating is a lot more fun than watching everyone enjoying their time. #TwoQuid

Adapting As My Body Allows Me

The change between Summer and Fall is always something I enjoy. I love taking walks in the breeze, feeling the dried brown leaves swirling at my feet, and the slight hint of colder weather to come. Except that this year I have not been able to do that, and to be honest it has been a bit frustrating.

Having caught pneumonia on my return from Iceland, I have gone from being able to walk distances over semi-rugged terrain to barely able to handle the 1500 steps around my small block here in the little town of Lindsay. My block is only six houses in size – three long, two wide – but it has been sufficient in distance to kick my ass every time I try to walk it. A walk that would take me less than five minutes of semi-brisk walking previously now takes me closer to fifteen minutes of slow-moving shuffling. On top of all of that, I have lost some muscle mass, along with close to twenty pounds of weight. I am in a far weaker state than I ever would have dreamed myself to be in. Adding to that is an immune system that is very much compromised, and I have to watch how often I am outside, as well as limit the amount of time I spend with the general public.

For most folks, an extended hiatus away from people would be a welcome respite. For me, it is a reminder of how far my body has betrayed me over the past two months. Added to all of this, I am also dealing with Acute Kidney Failure, which has my diabetes medications turned upside-down, as the doctors are wanting to put less pressure on my kidneys at this time. Just another remind that at fifty-three years of age, my bad health choices when I was younger are limiting the amount of life I have on the backside of the time I have in this incarnation.

Yes, I realize how negative all of that sounds. How angry some of that may come across. And in a manner of speaking I am slightly negative and angry about everything, particularly when I take the time to stop and think about this. In a span of nearly sixty days, I have gone from being a fairly active individual capable of dealing with life head-on to being someone that has to be watched over constantly with fear that something untoward may happen – such as a potential heart attack or even going to sleep at night and not waking the next morning, stuck in a coma induced by the issues with my kidneys. However, it is not truly the way I approach the world. In fact, I have learned a few coping mechanisms through all of this.

Going Outside

Sure, I cannot be outside for as long as I prefer. But I try and get outside as much as I can. Today is a particularly blustery day, weather-wise. I dress warmer than I need to. I already have my walking route planned out. I am more aware of my plodding speed these days then I was before, so I have a vague idea of how long I will be out. Typically its less than two hours. And most of it is less than a mile from the house. I take precautions as I need to. The idea with all the walking is to get exercise and blood-flow back into my legs, to be outside where I can feel the air on me rather than the circulated nonsense being pumped through the house by some external engine, and so I can hear the wind in the tree branches, as well as the birds that have stopped over in the park. Regaining my strength will take time, plus I need to get rid of the crud that has invaded my lungs. Once that has happened to a much greater degree, I can get back to putting myself on longer treks.

When the Weather Does Not Cooperate

I have a Peloton bike that was purchased two Winters ago. I get on it and pedal from time to time. Not to the bone-crunching sessions that are on the bike, but rather to the self-paced sessions that deliver a country-side on the screen, as you pedal your way through. I cannot spend nearly as much time on this machine as I can walking, but it is available for extra exercise when I need it during bad-weather days. I will also use days like this as rest and recuperation days as well. I have never been much of a bath person until I had a PICC line in my arm which prevented me from taking showers. However, a bath can be a relaxing thing, allowing for muscles to have a break. So depending on how I feel at that moment…

Still Keeping the Gods at the Forefront

Through all of this, even when I was in isolation in the hospital for eight days, I have tried to keep the Gods at the forefront of my day. I prayed to Crow, Coyote, and Brigid during my stay in the hospital, asking for assistance in getting my health better. Here at the house, I visit my stone circle twice per day – once in the morning to greet the Sun’s rising, and once in the late evening to thank Coyote, Crow, and Brigid for Their efforts to help make me as whole as possible again.¬†Every day can be a struggle, and as I have said before – some days are good ones, some days are bad, and there are plenty of days in between. Getting healthy again will take time, patience, perseverance, and most of all tenacity. I may not be able to accomplish today what I did yesterday or the day before – but I will accomplish something.

My Paganism, my Druidry, my Polytheism…none of that takes a backseat or gets set to the side during all of this. In fact, all of that becomes the foundational anchor towards getting better. And once I do manage to get all the way back on to my own two feet, none of those will disappear from my Life. These are a part of who I am. These are the pillars where my Life draws its basis from. I might not be able to enjoy the change from Summer to Fall as I have before, but I can still experience it. Perhaps for not nearly as long as I would like to…and sometimes from behind a pane of glass rather than standing out within the elements…but I can still experience it. Plus, there’s always next year. And I will be there for next year.

Keeping Things on Level Ground

Over on Facebook, I let folks write me questions on Facebook Messenger, which I turn into short anonymous questions that I answer as short statuses. Sometimes, the questions get a bit squishy and have some non-sensical attitudes to them. Sometimes, the questions can touch a nerve with me, such as the one below. I’ll explain more in a little bit…

PM Q: In light of John Beckett’s recent post on Pagan Leadership, how would you use his post to help define yourself in terms of being a Pagan Leader? Before you poo-poo the idea, you are a Pagan Leader to many of the people who read what you write.

Holy smeg. Well, first off, I read John‘s recent blog post on the Thirteen Questions for Pagan Leaders. I thought it was an excellent blog post with lots of information for someone looking to be a leader of a group. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to be the leader of a group of Pagans. That said, that’s not me. I’m not in any level of desire of being in charge of a group or directing the ritual practices of a group. I’m not built that way and I would turn that potential “job” down every single time that anyone would offer it to me. I’m an individual Pagan…a Solitary or Solitaire or Solo practitioner…whatever you want to call it. It is just me here.

Sure, I grok the idea that I have some element of leadership in the fact that I am willing to stick my neck out there and offer my opinions and perspectives via my blog. None of that means that I am the be-all, end-all of anything related to Paganism, aside from what I do as an individual. But that’s it. And to be bluntly honest, that’s about as far as I am willing to dip my toe into those waters. Ya know, perhaps I should turn all of this into a blog post…provided I can find more to really say beyond this…I am flattered that people would think of me as some kind of a “leader” but I am definitely not here to direct anyone else’s spiritual path other than my own. In the words of Edgar Friendly: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes, people come along.”

Now, my problem here isn’t John or even his excellent blog post – though I have had that posited to me privately since I wrote this. I know John outside of Facebook and the internet. We are very different Druids, which is understandable given that we are unique individuals who walk our Paths in the manner we each need to. I like John, and consider him to be a good friend. Yes, I disagree with him on some perspectives that he provides, but again – I am me. I know how to handle things in relation to what works for me. I have mentioned it before – we are not clones of one another. And if we were, I’d be disappointed in both of us in that regard. But as I noted, this isn’t the hot-button item for me. It certainly seems to be for a few folks who have approached me over that status.

No, my issue is being lifted up into a position of being a “leader” – being placed on a pedestal, of sorts. All (seemingly) because I am willing to provide my perspective here on this blog. Most of what I write here is either my experience or my perspective. It is not meant to be canonical law, but a potential starting point for others to explore from. I have no desire to be placed upon a pedestal and touted as the “answer” to how Paganism should be done. Shit folks, I’m scared of heights. Putting me up in high air will require me to find a way down back to level ground.

I was also asked about what mentors I have. I replied as follows…

PM Q: Who do you count as a mentor?

Oh wow. Uhm, I’m not sure I can count anyone as a mentor nor would I want to curse them with that title or position within my life. A lot of that is placing them on pedestals, no matter how small or large, and that is just a lofty location I would not want to put anyone.

I do have folks that I consider to as influences in my life. Cat Treadwell, Nimue Brown, and Joanna van der Hoeven have all played roles in my growth as a Pagan and a Druid to this point in my life. Their books and blogs have served as starting points for discussions in my own life on topics that I needed to sort out. Kristoffer Hughes continues to be an inspiration on how to approach life with a zest and passion for the good stuff, in whatever form it can be found. And there are so many others that I could continue to name for one reason or another…essentially, if you are in my life, I draw a piece of my daily passion or a slice of growing from you…and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But none of these folks are mentors or folks that I look up to. Each of them are people I look in the eye…because to treat them any differently would be an injustice to what they have helped me to discover for myself – people are people. Besides I cannot get awesome hugs from them when they are so far above me…its far easier if we are standing toe-to-toe with one another. And hugs…are everything.

When I was on a Wiccan Path, my High Priest and High Priestess took a lot of time with me to drum out some of the military perspectives on training that I had accumulated in my first two years in the Air Force. They both were instrumental in getting me to not place people in positions of power over me. Our conversations were typically held in their living room or around their dining room table. I could interrupt, argue, debate, disagree or agree with any topic that was brought up. So long as I was able to come to a level of reasoning on my own – even when it was diametrically opposed to what either of them was saying – everything was ok. Things were kept on a conversational level. If emotion crept into what I was trying to say, I was asked to stop and consider the why of that emotion before continuing. Everyone in the conversation was an equal, even if our understanding of a topic may not have been.

J & M helped me to realize that no one needed to be above anyone else in a conversation. Everyone could be afforded equal respect. There was no rank. There was no deference to an individual’s experience. No one made canonical law. Everyone was expected to turn over the topic for themselves and determine where the truth was actually located. Any power dynamic that was provided to our High Priest and High Priestess was done under an understanding that what we handed over was more precious than anything in the world – and that this trust would be handed back as soon as ritual or whatever need was being covered by that dynamic was completed.

I am not an expert on anything, except on what will or won’t work for me. I can make suggestions on what works for me and how that might translate for you. However, my expectation is that if you do decide to try what I did or what I offer as a possibility – that you will imitate it the first time, and then alter it to meet your specific needs each successive time after. That, in essence, you will make the ritual your own, you will make the magick your own, you will make the prayer your own. Spiritual Practice is not a cookie cutter world. At least not from where I sit.

I have no need to be considered an expert for anyone except myself. I am happy to mentor people in the basics of what I do, but the expectation that changes will be made to tailor things to you and your needs will always be there. I really am no leader. I run a group of one. Me. I’m no teacher, at least that is what I keep telling myself. But to some degree, we are all teachers. The younger generations watch to see what we “elder” Pagans are doing. And then they alter those practices, bend these practices to their will and needs….as it should be. But please….please…do not set me on a pedestal. I really am scared of heights…let’s keep this on level ground, where we can look in one another’s eyes while we talk and discuss…

 

Tapping the Brakes on Life

27858032_10155057913836751_1589891266989413670_nSamhain, as I have explained a few times before, is where I consider the start/end of the Wheel of the Year. For me, its a time similar to the Julian calendar turnover at December 31st. Many folks at that time will look back over the past year and reflect on what happened, as well as looking forward into the near future with resolutions and prognostications concerning their lives. During Samhain, I follow a similar thought pattern, though I leave the forecasting to a more generic level.

Throughout the year, I kept getting the urgent messaging to “slow down” from both Crow and Coyote. I made plans to alter my scheduling a bit more, pulling back from many events, and made the final push towards closing out what had turned into a very hectic personal schedule. My idea was to slowly pull back, and use the winter as a time to relax and turn a lot more inward in my practice. Apparently, I was not heeding what I had been told, as I found out in my return from a pilgrimage trip to Iceland, as I contracted pneumonia from my time there.

My pneumonia has brought my life to a stand-still. I spent eight days in the hospital before being released for home-care with a PICC line inserted into my right arm. That line allows intravenous antibiotics to be added here at home rather than me staying in the hospital. After a week, I was pulled from the antibiotics because my blood-levels were completely out of whack. I now wait for my blood levels to return to normal before finding out what the next steps in-home care will be. In the meantime, my pneumonia continues to run its course with heavy coughing on my part. My body continues to work the problem, albeit at its own pace.

During this time, I have been kept from work, which means I have far less to do on a daily basis than I did before. It also means that my anxiety and the pressures of my job are non-existent. My focus has been on writing (for as long as I can sit at the keyboard at any given time), reading, and working on my Ovate grade studies. Focuses that I have set to the side so that I can manage my job’s workflow in the past. All of that has been a step-by-step analysis of not only where I currently am in life, but where I have been in the past year.

My life has definitely been a race from location to location to task to task. A true comparison of the metaphorical rate-race, without the competitive rat. To continue along that analysis trail, I have been running in the wheel, but going nowhere. My recent life has been concerned with a constant barrage of work tasks related to data retrieval and analysis, both major aspects of my job. My problem was that I would bring all that home with me. There was no shut-off valve. Nor was there any outlet for other things or people that I could wind down my week with a few hours – not that there have not been offers of such, there certainly has been. But I continually fell into my pattern of work over everything.

The trip to Iceland was about connecting with a land that was very foreign to me, removing all aspects of my life to the side and focusing on something different. The trip was meant to be a change of pace and certainly served to be exactly that. I spent the trip relaxing, connecting with the land, and connecting with the people on the trip. In my estimation, I was the only Druid on this trip. The majority of the others were Witches of one variety or another – so there was a distinct difference in daily approaches to personal Spirituality. But with ten days, there was not really a ton of time to talk with others about such areas of personal depth – particularly when you are taking the time to get to know them as people first. Were the trip longer, I could see deeper conversations becoming a measure of focus in conversations.

I had gotten the messages of slowing down, changing focus, and diving deeper into my own personal Spirituality before the Iceland trip. I had plans to bring everything to a slower pace – tapping on the brakes a little at a time. Apparently, that was not appropriate. Now, before anyone thinks I am laying all of this at the feet of Crow and Coyote – you would be very wrong. My pneumonia was likely brought on by the change of temperatures between Iceland and Texas (approximately 60F on the day of return), along with the heavy pressures I had already built for myself where work was concerned. But this pneumonia is a major hammer-fall to what I need to change in my life. Something that Crow and Coyote have been chiding me over for nearly the past year.

So this illness, while not exactly the best timing whatsoever, is a major reminder that life needs to change. I have noted before, I am not a Priest for Coyote or Crow. I am not built that way and my working agreement with the two of Them does not approach that kind of concept. But I do need to tighten down parts of my bonds with both of Them. My work in the OBOD training materials also needs to be tightened up and followed. It was a promise I made to myself during the first Gulf Coast Gathering. My practice there has gotten sloppy and needs to be brought back together. Finishing is extremely important to me. And yes, there are specific plans for what happens when I am finished with all three grades within OBOD. Lastly is a change of perspective. Reworking what is important, and placing work in the isolated box it belongs in. I am so much more than the work I do. And its time I focused on that a lot more with the focus that the rest of my life deserves. Work has been placed first for too long.

As I noted, Samhain is the New Year’s point for me. This is the time of year that I tend to dive deep within myself and look at where I am, where I have been, and where I would prefer to go. This year, I get the added notation of my own health and focusing on fixing that for the future going forward. My future does not hold protests against the current Presidential administration as a high-level goal. Nor does my future hold a spot for me to be a “big-name Pagan”. As far as I am concerned, I’m just me. I ramble on. I prattle about topics here and there. If people listen, they listen. If they get something from what I say, that’s great as well. But in the end, I am no different than any other Pagan in the wide world. Just like them, I am trying to live my life. Simple as that.

 

Checking the Focus of the Lens

Every so often, I run into folks who seem to have a major chip on their shoulder when it comes to how others practice their own Spirituality. Stop me if you have heard this before: “I looked into <x> brand of <some Pagan-oriented system> and I just couldn’t get into it because everyone associated with it doesn’t have my values or ideals when it comes to a Spiritual Path” or some such nonsense. I grok that someone is looking for a Path that fits their values and their perception of what is wrong with today’s societal juggernaut, but when I hear folks seemingly get uber judgmental about how others are approaching their own Spiritual Paths, I get really disappointed in what I see and hear.

IMG_9670A long while back, I wrote a blog post called “I’m Woke, Just Not in the Way You Might Assume”. The point was that I do not really follow in lock-step on some of the various social injustice proclamations. And I certainly do not feel that every individual following a Pagan, Polytheistic, or Druidic Path must hold to the same ideals that I do or that there are certain “core” social issues or stances that make an individual a Pagan, Polytheist or Druid or even disqualify them from such a perspective. So, when I hear people slam a system of belief or even a faith-oriented organization because it does not fit their precious, self-inflicted paradigm, I have a tendency to roll my eyes and move on. But I always keep an eye out for these folks as well, because their self-aggrandizement can be harmful to others that they encounter. And I damn well want to be sure to not step in the way of shit like that.

See, I know what it is like to be belittled in ways like that. I know how hurtful that kind of tripe can be, and I certainly do not want to see anyone else go through that. I went through it with my parents. I had a desire to be a programmer coming out of high school. My parents did not want to see me go a route like that. There was not enough money in it. Besides, a medical doctor is where I should be. Both of my parents worked in the healthcare field, so there was a desire for me to follow in their footsteps. My younger sister certainly did not have the desire to head in that direction (nor did I), and while my grades were not the best (I was next-to-last in my graduating class in high school in terms of GPA), I had the acumen to learn complex issues. That was one of the skillsets that I thought really qualified me to be a programmer. Besides, I loved my little Commodore 64. To my parents, it was a toy, nothing more.

Every step I tried to take in the direction of working with computers was met with resistance. I was told I was not smart enough to do the job. I was told that there wasn’t enough money in the field to get rich. Even in my senior year of high school, I never had a desire to be rich, just to make enough money to live comfortably. Anything beyond that would place me in a position of responsibility that I just was not comfortable with. Yes Virginia, having lots of money adds extra responsibilities on to you that some folks just cannot fathom. For my parents, the amount of take-home-pay I earned was the be-all, end-all of what employment was all about. And every step I took away from that one over-arching principle was to be squashed, belittled, made fun of, looked down upon – even if it meant crushing my personal self-esteem in the process.

Yes, I know what it is like to have over-bearing people paint their principles, their mores, and attempt to supplant your hopes and dreams with their own. I spent a lot of time deprogramming my own personal thinking from those days, just to get back to where I am today. I sure as the Nine Hells would not want to see that happen to people who are trying to find their footing within their own individual Spirituality.

I get it, some people get a feeling of moral superiority when they can slam others for not finding a more actualized way of living. I have been on both sides of that coin before. But can we not focus on our own Path without having to charge into the judgment of the chosen Paths of others? Personally, I think folks can manage that, be able to focus on their own Spiritual undertakings, DISCUSS their own perspectives, and let others decide how they want to add (or not) this type of perspective to their own practice. We can certainly do that without judging the rightness or wrongness of how someone else approaches their own needs on their own Spiritual Path, right? Maybe?

Lastly, there are the folks who deem it necessary to make a huge stink about how a Path doesn’t work for them. Get over it. Get on with finding something that does work for you. I am more impressed with the folks who set down things that no longer work for them and check into other ways and perspectives without having to send up flares for the world to see where they have problems. As one of my supervisors in the Air Force told me:¬† “..solve your problems at the lowest possible level with the least amount of noise and fuss.” In other words, if I have an issue with a person, take the time to privately discuss the issue with them on a respectful level. If I have an issue with Paganism and find that it no longer works for me, it would be far better if I kept that to myself and looked through other Spiritual platforms for something that did. No need for histrionics. No need to pull at my hair and claw at my clothes. Just look, research, and try other things.

Sometimes, I wonder why we need all the drama in our lives. Why do we need to create something unnecessary? To fill some void we feel? Or do we need to draw the heat of the spotlight to ourselves? Me? Honestly, I prefer the edge between the light and the dark – where the shadows are in twilight. Not because its the start of darkness, but because its quiet there. Because I can spend time working on me without worrying too much about how others may or may not perceive it. Because, believe it or not, I may desire to not care one whit about how others might feel, but there’s a sliver deep down inside me that certainly does. I just do my utmost best to ignore it and to not feed it.

 

Looking for Advanced Pagan Practices – Roll for Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

I Believe in Multiple Second Chances

lakota-siouxA few words passed between a pair of individuals – seemingly harmful and hateful, but the immediacy of all that will pass. Much like sticks and stones, words can hurt. They certainly can sting quite a bit at the moment. However, the elixir of time will be a salve well used. Well, in most cases. Some folks will take the time to hang on to those moments of anger, and slowly feed that hot ember until the desired moment arises where its fires will consume the world around the individual, providing that ultimate revenge. I know. I’ve seen the start where that passing of words happens, and after a few years overseas in the military, I came back to the smoking remains of what was a thriving, cooperative local pagan community. And I have seen it happen time and time since then. The variations change from instance to instance, and the circumstances are different enough to be considered unique from one another, but still much the same framework of the narrative.

Every time I see it happen, even in my much wider online communities, I still am sad. I watch people take up sides on some of the barest specks of evidence I have ever seen produced. I’ve watched them dig their trenches deep, set their weaponry to cover the distance between their trench-line and that of the opposition – ready to ensure nothing lives between. A literal depiction of this side or that. And that’s where the sad in me starts to come out. That people cannot, even for the tiniest moment, hold out a hope of a spot of common ground, somewhere that dialogue can be had. Somewhere that civility can live.

Yes, I can hold out hope for that common ground, that place of civility between myself and someone I am diametrically in opposition to. Can I have civility with a person who is a known animal abuser and is unapologetic about their behavior? Yes, I can. Just as I would hope a Dominionist Christian could want civil dialogue with me, an unabashed, unapologetic, hard-Polytheist, Pagan Druid. Because I believe that in every individual there exists the ability to be a civil-mannered individual that acknowledges the beauty of someone else’s existence as a human being as well. Even if just for a moment. Even if all they can do is stub their toe into the edges of that common ground.

Why? Because I am stupid and foolish and naive when it comes to my fellow human beings. Because I am empathetic to the people that fuck up and never get provided the chance to change who they are. Not the second chance. Or the third. Or the fourth. Or the ninetieth. The whatever chance. I don’t care enough to count the number of times. I want them to change who they are because they see how much others want to believe in THEM – no matter what they did or might have done. Yes, I am all for being careful in all of these chances being provided for them to change. Yes, I believe they need to be treated warily and with caution from here to the day that they die and move into the beyond. But in all of that, I want them to have those multiple chances. Because I don’t want to give up on them.

I have been there. I remember how fucking hard it was. No one wanted to help. No one cared enough to help. Why? Because I fucked up and betrayed what they thought was the image of me. Karma decided to be instant in my life, and bite me in the ass thrice. I lost the people that were my family. I lost their trust. And in all of that, I lost the only paying job I had. I had the pleasure of starting all over again. And I deserved that. And I was very lucky that someone else took a chance on who they thought I could be. And from all of that, I have arrived where I am now. Three degrees: a Bachelors and two Masters degrees. Three more degrees and a high school diploma my father never got in his lifetime. All because someone saw the potential, and kept pushing me back to the straight and narrow pathway that I needed to walk. And I remember all of that….

…and I cry when I watch my Pagan community rip itself apart over the slightest this or that. I hear Pagans talk about how Christians want to just destroy all Pagans to rid the world of our beliefs. We do more than half their work on our own while waiting for only the smell of burning sulfur dioxide from a match to signal the moment we start that race.

Maybe I am stupid. Maybe I am naive. Maybe I do fart cherry-flavored rainbows on Sunday. But I do believe in more than just a second chance for people. Because I believe there is a good person somewhere in every person. And where others might be willing to give up on that, I certainly am not. Because I believe in you. I believe in what you mean to other people in your life. And I am not willing to see you as diseased flesh to be given up on. Just realize, not giving up on you does not mean I won’t protect myself or others near and dear to me from you. I trust you, but I do have some limits.