Freedom is Choice – Choose to Decide

Freedom. The concept comes in so many forms. The freedom of a nation to determine its own course. The freedom of an individual to determine their own choices in living life. And so many other ways to think about the concept. But for me, it comes down to one thing: choice. Choice is what provides me with my path into Paganism. I grew up raised as a Catholic by parents who were not church goers. In essence, they forced their own concept of personal spirituality on to me. When I became an adult, I searched through various aspects of religious perspective and spirituality thought before finding Paganism, Polytheism, and eventually Druidry as fame works for my own personal Spirituality.

And I love having the ability to choose things for myself. Its one of the things I cherish about the American format of Life. I can choose the vehicle I want to drive. I can choose the house that I wish to live in; granted, that’s s long as I can afford the payments on it. I can choose, to some capacity, the type of professional career that I want. I can also choose to make a sudden change in that career path if I so desire. I can choose where to shop for groceries; again, that is complicated to some degree by what I can afford. And I can choose the individual that I love – regardless of gender, race, eye color, hair color, maturity level….or at least that’s until the government decides to outlaw same-sex relationships.

So, what would happen if the government did start taking away choice? In other words, what would happen if the government started curtailing my freedoms? Well, its happened to some degree with things such as the so-called Patriot Act, and in some states with the bathroom/gender laws. And for the most part, we in America tend to allow it to happen. I can live with the thought of taking off my shoes at the airport because its a measure to keep us safe. If the government takes away same-sex marriage, it doesn’t bother me – I’m a straight male. But its really an illusion. As some choices get taken from us in the name of security or the “sanctity of marriage” – how long before the next set of choices gets taken? In a society that is driven by definitions and laws created by straight white males, how far can the removal of choices be made before we start to push back??

In my mind, freedoms and choices are for all, not for a chosen few. When a society starts creating a division of haves and have-nots, the concept of democratic principles that apply to all melts away. But how to stop changes like this from happening? That’s actually easy, provided the laws don’t change before you can do something about it. You need to vote.

And you don’t need to just vote, you need to be up to speed on what’s happening before you head to the polling location. Know about your candidates. Know their stances on issues that matter to you. Know the issues for your local area and state that are being put before you. Know what those changes can mean to you, and others.

Now, I am sure that I am preaching to the choir – so to speak – with some of you. But voter apathy is a real thing. People complain about their vote not meaning anything. Well, your vote means even less if you don’t cast the damn thing. We talk about personal sovereignty, we talk about having freedoms….as I said, all that boils down to one thing:  choice. As is stated in the Rush song “Freewill”:

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

 

So What Gives With the Irish Goddess?

Quite a while back, I mentioned that I had finally been clued in on my long-time flirtation with some Goddess aspect in dreams and meditations. Since 2008, I have had my dreams and meditations interrupted with a woman who stands just outside of the edge of my vision. She beckons to me to come closer, and eventually I find myself at the edge of the thicker part of a forest. She continues to walk deeper into the forest, constantly crooking Her finger at me, and giggling softly. All the time, I constantly ask for Her name and only receive giggles in return. About seven months ago, shortly before I went overseas to Ireland, she provided a name. “Flee-das.”

I had never heard the name before. So it took some searching to find the name. Turns out She is a part of Irish mythology, and Her name is spelled Fliodhas (modern spelling, or Flidais. She is the Irish Goddess of the forest, and as far as I have been able to understand, She is similar in nature to the archetype of the Huntress.

So, I am primarily Germanic in my ancestry, and was a bit perplexed over what an Irish Goddess might want with a German kid (not that I am a kid anymore). And to be honest, I am still in the process of figuring that out. I have started to walk deeper into the forest in my dreams and meditations. I feel the same anxiety as I walk deeper along my Path with OBOD, as I finish my Bardic grade studies and now move into my Ovate grade studies. She still does not answer my questions, but continues to lead me deeper into the forest.

A little over a year ago, I took the DNA test with Ancestry.com, and got back results I was quite sure I would get. I’m Germanic. Approximately 40% according to the test. But at first, I never saw anything about an Irish background. Until recently, when my DNA results expanded a bit more. My DNA is 100% European, again not much of a surprise. But as I started going deeper into the breakdown, there it was:

Capture

So now I have my answer. There is a trace of Irish there. Now comes the harder part – getting an answer to my question of what is wanted of me. And for that, I am willing to be as patient as I need to be.

 

Magick and Familiar Stones – My Perspective

My stone circle in the backyard is a focal part of my daily Spiritual Life. When I get home in the late afternoons from work, I have made a habit of stopping by the circle and offering a short moment of thanks for the day. Even a bad day. After all, I made it through whatever has happened, and have managed to reach the safety of home. The stone circle is also a place where I do my grounding and centering. Its a place of safety, a place of comfort, and a place of “known energy” for me.

Thinking back, I originally created my stone circle as a place that could look “nice” outside of my backyard window at my previous home. Over time, it morphed from a “nice” thing to look at, to a functional place where I could handle meditations, and that one practice I dread using the most – “magick”.

I am not one to utilize magick lightly or even often. For me, its a tool that I use for bigger needs, and even then I am reluctant to go that route. In other words, I don’t take magick use lightly. Its not something that I immediately reach for. I usually take the time to puzzle out if another tool or technique might not reach similar results. Or to use a different analogy, magick is like a nuclear weapon. I have it in my arsenal, but am reluctant to utilize it because of the immense power that it is, when something else might accomplish the goal through a modified use or in a greater set of repetitions.

When I am talking magick, I am correlating this specifically to spell work. Not that long ago, there was a push to work spells and/or curses against Donnie’s presidency. I decided not to participate in all of that because of the three-fold concept of karmic return. But I also made sure not to denigrate or belittle the choices of others who decided to go in for all of that either. Their choice, their karma.

So, I tend to get a lot of push-back on my stance on magick. After all, its there – why not use it? Again, I point out that I cannot – and will not – choose for others, nor will I look down on those who choose differently from me. I hold magick – particularly spellwork – as a last resort. When I have exhausted every methodology I can think, and then even after I carefully weigh the possibility of its use, magick becomes an option that gets set on the table for me.

Perhaps its just the programmer in me, or maybe the Technology troubleshooter, but I prefer to hold the biggest, baddest tool in reserve until I have tried all other options. For me, its like squashing a fly with a sledgehammer. Just an unequal use of force for the application at hand. And to be honest, when I do decide to utilize magick, my preference is to use it in territory I am familiar and comfortable with. And that would be my little stone circle.

 

Spending Time With My OBOD Family

The past five days have been a complete adventure for me. Wednesday and Sunday were thirteen-hour marathons of driving with my RV trailing behind my truck. The days in-between were filled with fun, awesome presentations, and some super excellent food. Somewhere in all of that, I wound up initiating into the Ovate grade, which I am still floored over. And there was my telling of the saga of the Screen Door Boar and the Bardic Initiates around the Saturday night fire. But the best part? That’s extremely simple. It is the people.

Every Gulf Coast Gathering has afforded me the opportunity to get to know several folks. I count many of these people as family. And they are far too numerous to name without me leaving off a name or two because I have an old man’s memory. Each of them has played a role, in one way or another, in my life. Whether they know it or not. And that goes just as well for the “friends of OBOD” folks who attend as well. I am deeply honored, and quite lucky to have these people in my life.

When people ask me about these OBOD retreats, I typically respond that I can only talk intelligently of two – the Gulf Coast Gathering and the East Coast Gathering. There are other camps elsewhere, and while I am quite confident that these camps are just as warm and welcoming as ECG and GCG, I have not attended those before. If you are an OBOD member and wondering if it is worth your time to travel to a camp, I would emphatically say “YES!” The people you meet there will be tied into your life in ways you could never imagine possible. All you need to do is open your heart.

For me, a huge part of what Druidry is about is connectivity. With the land around, with the Spirits of Place, with the Spirits of Ancestor, with the Gods and Goddesses….and with people. All of that connectivity helps to define the way we live, and the depth that we love at. And its not a one-time walk on a pathway either. Its a lifetime exploration. For me, that’s the easiest way to define life. Its not an all-encompassing way to see things, but it is a way to START to see things.

Let’s be realistic, Life is complicated in so many ways. With local, county, regional, state, national, and world politics, changing laws, and the ceaseless news cycle – its easy to get bogged down with things that can be crazy, bewildering, and sometimes downright depressing. But boil all of that away, and what you have left are the things that matter. And for me, that’s the people I know and cherish, the Spirits of Place, my Spirits of Ancestor and the Gods. My Druidry helps me to weave and strengthen those connections. And all of that culminates in these OBOD gatherings. And when members of my extended family are missing for whatever reason, there’s that feeling of an empty chair around the fire, and I can literally picture them in that spot – laughing and smiling along with everyone else.

So, while I did go to Gulf Coast Gathering to initiate into the Ovate grade, and was thrilled to do so, it was the people that made it memorable. To be able to hug people I look up to, people that I call friend, and people that I call family – that made all the difference between an initiation and a moment I will cherish forever in my life. Having friends and family there was all the icing on that cake-like moment that I needed. And being able to entertain my friends and family with the telling of the saga of the Screen Door Boar and the Bardic Initiates was the final cherry added to the mix. I did enjoy making my friends and family laugh at the silly antics of a moment from the previous year.

–Tommy /|\

Pinky-to-Talon Swear – Moments of Transition

This particular blog post is coming to you from Fountainbleu State Park campground in Louisiana. I made it here after twelve hours pulling my RV behind my truck from north central Texas. So why I did I drag my RV down here? For OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering, of course!

This is the last of my major trips for the front part of the year. I will be attending Many Gods West later this year, as well as CalderaFest (which I will again pull the RV along with me). As an introvert, coming out to Pagan gatherings, festivals and conferences its a tough experience for me – but there was a promise made. Pinky-to-talon swear. But the OBOD GCG is a different thing from those.

First off, this is family. These people are members of my extended family. Many of them have burrowed their way into my heart and life over the past few years. Some of them, I have known much longer – and our friendship has turned into something much deeper. For me, this is a yearly family reunion. Where we can hunt Screen-door-swinging-in-the=Breeze Boars, play London Bridge with the Bardic initiates, sit down to talk/laugh/carry-on – essentially build experiences and moments that will sustain us for another fifty-one weeks of the coming year.

Second, its a moment of transition for me. This year, I will be advancing from the Bardic grade to the Ovate grade. After seven years of working my way through the Bardic Gwers, my constant stopping and starting; I have made it through and am moving forward in my studies. All due to another pinky-to-talon swear. I am excited, anxious, and completely terrified at where things go from here. This is the moment where I step off well-worn Path and move into an area of the forest I am unsure of. Where the Path ceases to be a well-walked foot path, and becomes a slightly discernible deer trod.

Over the past few weeks, three themes have been recurring in nearly everything I do:  death, dreams, and freedom. And as I walk further along these new steps to my Path, I can see where these all intersect at varying points coming up. Or perhaps its a slight illusion where I think that the bridge I see in the distance is part of the Path I walk, but its actually not.

There’s only one way to find out, eh? Taking the step forward. And then putting another step forward. I have mentioned it before, its time for me to be the Priest I am supposed to be. It is long past time to pick myself up off the Path, dust off my hindquarters and get on with being the Druid I am. Its time for me to start digging deeper into stories, myths, and communication. Being stagnant on the Path is nice for a short rest, but I have rested enough. And as I said, I am excited, anxious and terrified about where those steps will take me. Onwards. /|\

Ten Books I Keep Within Reach

Books are something that adorn nearly every shelf in my home office. I have a fairly diverse selection of material as well. With books on historical topics, programming languages, data modeling, information security, and – yes – books on Paganism. Rarely do I get asked about what programming books I think are great. That usually happens at a professional conference, and even then its once in a very blue moon. As a Pagan blogger and (sometimes) podcaster, its books on Paganism that I get asked the most about.

Usually, the query is what good basic book on Druidry (What Do Druids Believe – Philip Carr-Gomm) would I recommend, or what book on general Paganism (Drawing Down the Moon – Margot Adler) I would hand to someone if I could. But occasionally, I get an interesting question that approaches my book shelves in a way I would not have readily anticipated.

Taking the lead down that rabbit-hole, not that long ago I had a coworker ask me what ten books are my “go to” reading when I need to get some inspiration concerning Paganism or need some help with an issue. And its a fair question to ask, except that not every book I have in my list has to do with Druidry or Paganism. Inspiration comes from many places, including fictional works.

My first choice is a book that has helped me numerous times. Cat Treadwell’s “Facing the Darkness” is a book that is geared towards dealing with depression and many other issues that one can encounter in life. When I first read her book, I loved the way issues were handled with not only a light touch, but with a strong depth of caring. When my mother and father passed away within six months of each other, Cat’s book was one of the first things I reached for to help me deal with my swirling emotions. Definitely a must have book in the bookshelf directly behind my desk – a spot where my unread books go, along with my most utilized books of any topic.

My second, third and fourth books are really an excellent series when put together. However each of them stands quite well on their own as individual works. Joanna van der Hoeven’s “Zen Druidry“, “Zen for Druids” and “The Stillness Within” are all geared to the individual that utilizes Zen practices within their Path. For me, the meditational techniques within Zen are invaluable methodologies for achieving some of my other worldly work. And Joanna’s writings not only are spot on in my opinion, but the material has also helped me refine some aspects of my own practice. Furthermore, I still pull one of these off the shelf from time to time to read for inspiration in trying different techniques as well. Her writing style is extremely accessible, in my opinion.

My fifth book is actually not a book on Paganism. Its a book on computer history called “Fire in the Valley“. This book serves as a reminder of what people can do when they dream and believe. The personal computer was a dream that seemed to only be true for the hobbyist. But somewhere, someone had a dream of putting a computer on every desktop around the world. That every individual would be able to utilize a computer for tasks that were typically confined to the High Priests of the Data Center – hidden behind the locked doors. Where raised flooring surrounded equipment, larger than an automobile, which were manipulated by attendants, who coerced data into results. Somewhere, someone got a fire in their head that told them that mainframe computers could be set on desktops and used directly by the users. I reread parts of this book to remind me where my career field has come from, and that dreamers are the people that make the impossible possible.

My next two books are a pair of biographies that I pick up from time to time to remind me of those who get to close to their personal fires, and those who fight oppression and stereotypes in every step they took in life. First, the mad genius. That would be the biography “Steve Jobs” written by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was a visionary that understood how to make product that people wanted in their lives. The ultimate salesman. However, he let his career drive him in a way that completely engulfed his personal life. His biography is a constant reminder to me of why my job does not define me. There’s far more precious aspects to life than a paycheck. The other is “Where White Men Fear to Tread” which is the biography of the actor and First Nations activist Russell Means. Proud of his heritage, Means fought through Hollywood stereotypes to bring honor to the roles he portrayed. He also fought for the rights of all First Nations peoples in everything he tried to do in his life. I only hope that I have as much drive towards Pagan rights and even a tenth of the influence that Means had in his cause.

My eighth and ninth books are a pair of books about legends, stories, and tales. The first if “Children of the Salmon” by Eileen O’Faolain (I wish I had a link for this book, but sadly it looks to be out of print). I happened across this particular book in a used bookstore in Denton, Texas. I was looking for something that discussed Irish folktales, and found this particular book. Anytime I am looking for a good tale from the island, this is the book I reach for. I’ve read this cover to cover several times, and it never gets old to me. In fact, some of the tales in these pages, you will hear me recite on the podcast in the coming months. The other book on legends is “Indian Legends From the Northern Rockies” by Ella Clark. Its no secret that I love the Rocky mountains. If I had my way – and enough money – I’d leave for Colorado or Montana in a heartbeat. This book has been invaluable as a resource, and entertaining beyond belief for me. I have a very strong affinity for the First Nations and their culture, and while the book does not provide an entry point for that, it certainly provides a nice keyhole into a very small corner.

My last book is by far my most used. I don’t think there is a day when I am home that I don’t open this book randomly and read wherever I open it. “The Poetry of Robert Frost” is one of my most cherished treasures on my book shelves. Frost has always been my favorite of the American poets, and is certainly someone I consider to be one of the greatest of all time. I was introduced to his poetry when I was seven years old. His soaring imagery of the world around him resonated quite well with a young man growing up in Germany. With my family constantly going on Saturday or Sunday volksmarches that wound through fields, towns, and forests, I found the visual keys that I needed to open Frost’s words to a wider perspective. I can only hope to even by 1/1000th the poet that this man was.

Reading is something I enjoy doing. It broadens my mind by presenting topics and perspectives that I had never considered on a variety of issues. It opens the lives of other people to me, exposing the madness of their genius, or the drive that pushes them to keep trying to achieve equality. Or it opens new realms through fictional stories and characters that I can find ways to relate to…and sometimes learn from. Or I can find techniques that help me connect to the world around me, or help me to develop gentle, loving coping skills for difficult times and moments in my life. And sadly, this is only a very small sampling of what I have on my shelves. Authors I have not mentioned have also influenced me to a fantastic degree as well. Their writings open a door into their worlds as well, as they pour their hearts and souls into the pages of what they write. And I can only thank them for doing just that, because they enrich my own life so much with their perspective. Some of them, I have been lucky enough to get to know. A few of them I have even had the chance to interview for the podcast. An even smaller number I have gotten the chance to meet in person. And once I stop being a little fanboy in front of them, I have had some lovely conversations with them. And gotten some wonderful hugs as well. All I can say is this:  support your writers. Buy their books. Support their patreon pages – if they have one. Tell others about them. Authors are wonderful people to love. 🙂

 

Lead, Follow or Make Your Own Way

Lead, follow or get out of the way.

When I was in the military, my first direct supervisor imprinted this in my mind as the best way to make my way through the United States Air Force. And honestly, it is quite a true statement. Making my way through a regimented society – and the military most definitely is a regimented society – was most easily accomplished by either taking charge, following those in charge, or stepping aside and letting others handle the situation. My biggest problem was dragging this into the civilian world when I left the military.

Occasionally, I hear this same concept handled in regards to dealing with one’s own Spiritual Path. Either step up and take charge of being within a group, step aside and follow the lead of others in a group or just don’t be a part of things. And generally, particularly for people new to Pagan groups, this is taken to mean that they should just quit being a Pagan and find something else.

Been there. And to be brutally honest, it is a moment that just sucks pop rocks. Being given an avenue that offers only a pair of choices, neither of which is palatable or workable, can feel rather limiting. So can being given the similar binary choice of either those two choices or get out. That is a moment that can send anyone down the endless spiral of doubt as to whether being a Pagan was a good choice or not. After all, you find this wonderful Path that provides freedom of thought and choice in a manner you never dreamed would be possible. Excitedly, you find a Pagan group to discuss this with, and you find there’s only these choices provided to you. An absolutely terrible ice-bucket-challenge moment.

My senior year of high school, I had some classes that I had to take because I had not done my freshman or sophomore years in the state of Louisiana. Taking these classes meant that I would be on a class schedule similar to that of the first two year students, placing me on their lunch schedule. When I was at lunch, all the other senior-year students would be in their classes, while I ate lunch. I would be the only senior on that lunch bell. Effectively, I found myself ostracized from my fellow classmates, and being a senior, I was keep at an arm’s distance by the under classmen. It was a very disheartening experience for me, because I found myself on the outside looking in for most of the functions for my class. And as a result my experiences and relationships with the people I graduated high school were thin in nature and strength.

It is not quite the same thing as finding a Pagan group, and realizing you have nothing in common with them – and realizing there are no other Pagans to be found to talk and discuss things with. However, that sense of loneliness and disillusionment can be quite similar.

My way out of the issue in high school was to seek friendship with people outside of my school. I went to a private Catholic all-boys high school, so it was a little easier to find a cadre of friends outside of the school. I found mine via the Friday night showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the St. Vincent mall in Shreveport. The friends I made there accepted me for the awkward, semi-shy person that I was. They encouraged me to grow in the things that I enjoyed, even when they didn’t completely agree with it. In this instance, I was exploring my musical tastes by delving into hardcore metal – and while they didn’t really care for my musical tastes, they did discuss some of the merits of bands such as King Diamond, Exodus and Slayer in comparison to some of the musical tastes they had. In essence, we were a band of misfit friends. We were all very different from one another, banded together over our desire to be free to explore.

The same can be said for how I approached my Paganism. I went through the rejection aspect too. But I also found ways to connect with Pagans elsewhere. Through message board systems on local BBSs, I found folks in PODSNet, the Magick SIG, and other places where I could talk about what I believed. Through this, I found people who were willing to listen, respond, and assist me in growing myself into who I became.

To put it a different way, I realized that sometimes the path or deer trod through the forest is not always the best way to travel. Sometimes, you have to tighten up your cloak around you, step off the path and enter the forest proper. Granted, there’s a huge degree of caution that one has to take. You have to be careful of your footsteps so that you don’t slip and fall down a steep embankment. You have to be aware of your surroundings, making sure that you don’t run into any animals that may find you to be an intruder that must be repelled. But the experience of blazing your own trail through the forest can be exhilarating, sobering, and intense.

To be upfront and blunt, I do not recommend making your own way to every single individual that is out there. Sometimes, when you get rejected from a group or when you find a group just does not fit who you are – keep looking. Keep knocking on doors. Keep looking for those others.

If you find yourself on a trail on your own, or you find yourself needing to wander off the trail and finding your own way in your own Spirituality – take that chance. Again, be prepared. It can be a lonely path. You will find yourself doubting what you are doing. You may find that you really do need to go back to the trail – and there is not one thing wrong with that. Blazing your own way through the forest is not for everyone. Don’t feel ashamed or upset over it. Cherish the experience, and set it off to the side. You might be able to utilize that experience in something else. And if you do manage to blaze your own trail (and even if you don’t) – be sure to record your experience of it somewhere. In a journal. In an audio recording. In a video recording. Somewhere. So that you can come back to it. Recorded experiences are valuable tools in future learning. And I honestly wish I had done the journaling that I do now back in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the meantime, it is time to pick up my pack, grab my staff, and continue walking my daily Path. Whether you choose to walk a trail or blaze a path of your own – remember this: leading groups and others is hard work. Following others is hard work as well, as you need to watch, listen, and feel to make sure you need to keep following. Getting out of the way, merely means you are standing still. Nothing wrong that. Just get moving eventually. Make a choice, experience it, embrace it, and eventually stop. Evaluate what’s going on. If its still working, stick with it. If you need to adjust do that. If you need to change, do that as well. It is your Spiritual Path. It is your walk in Life. Only you can choose where your footfalls will wind up.