Thinking About Music

Music has always been a driving force in my life. My earliest memories of life are associated with 1950s and 1960s country music, thanks to my father. My mother’s tastes were a bit more contemporary for the times, as evidenced by my memories of Abba and Gilbert O’Sullivan. In my high school years, I was introduced to bands such as Van Halen and the Eagles. In the last two years of high school, I found the indie labels such as Megaforce and Metal Blade records, and my introduction to an extremely harder edge of metal music was started.

I drove a two-speed Honda Civic in those days. That vehicle was a lot like driving a golf cart that could get up to 80 miles and hour. I bought a tape deck and a pair of speakers. Nearly every single day, you could hear the sounds of bands like Mercyful Fate, Black ‘N Blue, 45 Grave, Hurricane, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Richard Hell playing from my little sardine-can car. It took a few more years before I was introduced to the Grateful Dead, and much of the 1960s and 1970s rock scenes, which I spend a lot more time in these days.

When I am at work, I have a small Bose speaker that looks like a cube. Usually, I have some kind of music coming from that little speaker – playing on my phone. Especially when I have a difficult piece of code to work on. Music relaxes me – physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Some days, I need a shot of fast-paced music to let my brain travel in ways that I normally don’t think. For that, I either have Motorhead or Eloy coming through the speaker. But, in my very conservative office area, the vocalization of Lemmy Kilmister are not exactly a welcome form of music, so I have a pair of bluetooth speakers I will move to for this.

Now, its likely been noticed that I haven’t listed any Pagan musicians as my go-to choices. I have a handful of these artists in my collection, but rarely do I play any of these in the workplace or when I am looking for something to help me focus and concentrate. I didn’t grow up with any of these artists, so my brain isn’t wired to those sounds the way it is with the music I have described above. When I am looking to concentrate and focus, not even my beloved Grateful Dead is a go-to choice.

Photo by John Beckett

I have been reamed over saying that before. Yes, there are some folks who believe it to be a level of blasphemy that Pagan artists are not at the top of my choices for constant music listening. My typical response is to shrug and walk away. I honestly do not need to have that shoved into my face. Music is an art form that is appreciated by the listener. While I dearly love the vocal stylings of several Pagan musicians, their music touches a different part of me than the music that I listened to back in high school. I pick up Pagan music when I am feeling down and need something that picks up my mood. Something that reminds me of who I am as a Druid, such as Damh the Bard’s “Green and Grey”.

Such attitudes, which I find off-putting at the very least, remind me of the Southern Baptist, Christian ministers who shot me dirty looks when I pulled into the church parking lot with Stryper or Ressurection Band or Jerusalem playing on my speakers. Those bands are all Christian hard rock or heavy metal bands. But because their dress style was similar to that of the hard rock and metal bands of that time (early to mid 1980s), they were judged as being “Satanic”. When I play these albums out and listen to them today, I hear musicians playing a style of music and finding ways to explain the message of their faith. While I am not a Christian, I can appreciate their desire to sing about something that deeply resonates within their being. I find that to hold true with Pagan musicians, as well.

Overt dogmatic practices quickly turn me off. Truth is found in the individual and the manner in which they connect to the world around them. Music is one of the purest ways to relay this. When I hear Pagans tell me that Pagan artists should be at the top of my personal playlist, all I hear is the same tone I heard from Southern Baptist ministers who condemned Christian artists that accessed a style of music to relay their messages of how Christianity brought them hope and comfort in a confusing world.

As I noted overt dogmatic preaching of the Christian faith really turns me off. But nothing makes me feel more ill than a dogmatic Pagan trying to convert the masses to Paganism of one form or another. I have always viewed the Pagan Path as one where adherents come willing, seeking out of curiosity or a desire to find something that fits their understanding of the connectivity of the world. I certainly don’t want to see people come to the Path of Paganism out of fear of what will happen to their soul in the after-life (one of the few concepts that you will ever hear me bash Christianity over).

Before I step off the trail of this post and head down a rabbit hole I did not intend to go, let me pull this back together. Music means a lot of things to me. Its the background of my day. Certain music touches my soul in certain ways. But regardless of all of that, music is an ecstatic piece of freedom contained within the storytelling mode. The lyrics provide wonderful stories combined with musical aspects for punctuating. Done well, those stories stay with us forever. How many of you can “Witchy Woman” with the Eagles when you hear it on the radio? How many of you can sing the lyrics by memory? Think about that for a moment. Those lyrics are memorized and a part of your unconscious thoughts, and that story is easily recalled when you hear the first strains of guitar in the song.

Music is a part of us, provided by very talented people. They have a message or story that they are trying to tell you. Some delivery methods do not lend themselves to being well received by the listener. For instance, I do not like rap music. Nothing presented to me in that format is memorable for me. For others, its quite a different story. The same can hold true for Acid Jazz, a music form that evokes strong emotions for me, but can be described as “noise” by others.

So, crank up your speakers, put something on that brings you joy. Don’t worry about what others might say. The music is for you. Its there to calm your soul. Its there to place you into a particular frame of mind. And who cares whether its something associated with your Spirituality or not. This is about you, your emotions, the way you feel…that’s what matters.

Promises at the Beginning of the Harvest

Sheep near the Giant’s Causeway in the UK

Typically, I do not write very much about how I go through celebrating the various aspects of the Wheel of the Year. So I thought I would try my hand at doing so. For the next turn of the Wheel – from Luhnasadh to Lughnasadh – I’ll be writing about how I went through each celebratory turn of the year. Hopefully, someone will get something out of all of these coming posts, and find inspiration in their own Path.

I don’t normally do the celebrations of the Wheel with others, except Imbolc and Spring Equinox. Imbolc is through a gathering of ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin) folks down near Mountain Home, Texas. Spring Equinox is done with some OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) members at the Gulf Coast Gathering down in a very nicely wooded park near Mandeville, Louisiana. Both groups of folks are like family to me, though I have done both my Bardic and Ovate initiations in Louisiana (I am not a member of the ADF). The rest of the Wheel of the Year is spent on my own, though I am looking into changing aspects of that going forward (provided my life kinda settles down where health issues are concerned).

Lughnasadh tends to be conflated with Lammas by a lot of folks. The reality is that while both celebrate the same thing – the start of the harvest – and around the same time frame – the beginning of August – these are two different holidays from two different cultures. Lammas comes from English and Scottish cultures, while Lughnasadh comes from Celtic roots, specifically. For me, I don’t really draw that fine of a distinction between the two. Same time frame, same celebratory reason, similar name…for me, I’m not too picky, they’re the same. There are many folks that will disagree with me on this point, and frankly, I’m perfectly fine with that.

As this is the start of the harvest, I tend to watch for signs in my local community to see how close the local farmers follow to this period of time. A few days ago, August 5th to be precise, I noticed that the corn farmers in the area were already harvesting their crops. Noting this in my journal, I started the preparations that I needed for my own following of this time frame. Now I do not have garden on my backyard, so there is not much for me to harvest. But, there are ways I can work off of this concept from a symbolic perspective, none of which is really all that much of a ritual.

I will be honest, the typical perspective of what a ritual is does not really fit into my aspect of daily practice. I m unlikely to spend a lot of time calling quarters or acknowledging the Gods, the Spirits of the Land, or even the Spirits of Ancestor. For me, personal, individual practice is a lot shorter and quieter in terms of ritual. I find less pull and interaction from the Gods and the Spirits during ritual, and a ton more from being out and about in my day and evening. Formal ritual is a wonderful, bonding moment and emotion when with other people. The creation and enactment of those particulars brings a bond of emotion that is incredible, but rarely do I get the tug of the Gods and Spirits in those moments.

Lughnasadh was spent indoors for me this year. The temperatures outdoors are fairly hot during this time of the year in Texas, and this year is no exception. After my pneumonia from the end of last year, and my recent diabetic seizure, I am careful with where and when I place myself outdoors these past few months. I might be a bit too cautious with extreme weather conditions at this time, but I am trying to take care of myself a bit better.

Anyways, I held my observation of this turn of the Wheel indoors, in my office. As I noted, I am not a farmer, I am without a garden in my yard, and do not really have much to harvest. A trip to the grocery store had netted from fresh vegetables and fruit, and I pulled an apple and an orange into the office with me. I gave my nod to the four directions, sat and held each piece of fruit in my hand. I contemplated where it might have come from, the trip that it took to get to the grocery store, before I bought it and brought it home. Certainly, neither had grown in the wild, but rather were more likely to have been on trees in large farms. Then there were the people who had picked/harvested the fruit from those trees, some were probably migrants here in the United States – potentially having crossed the border, illegally. Forgetting the politics of their plight, I focused on the idea of what brought them here, the desire for a new life for themselves and their families. Yes, even they are mixed into the harvest aspect that we should give thanks for. Thanks that these folks are taking a chance to find a better life, to find freedom. There is so much that goes into the concept of the harvest.

Strange as it may seem, I look to Lughnasadh to be something akin to the American tradition of Thanksgiving. This is time to thank the Land for providing for us, to thank the Ancestors for providing their guidance, and thanking the Gods for Their presence in our lives. Once I reached this point, I took a knife and carved the apple and the orange into slices. The first full slices to come from both were set off to the side, and I ate my fill of the rest. The leftovers, minus the first pieces, were placed in a container that I took to work. These would be my snacks over that Monday upon my return to work. The first slices, I took out to the eastern circle (my stone circle is currently dismantled for cleaning) and I set these on a smaller stone from the circle as an offering to the Land, a reminder that we give back to the Land that which we take. This to complete the cycle of sustenance that we receive.

In my view, Lughnasadh is a time of giving thanks to our Gods, the Spirits of the Land, and our Ancestors who have come before. We are starting the time of harvest. Life has the promise of plenty, the promise of being alive, the promise of survival for the coming Winter. And where we have plenty, we can provide to others. Show the kindness that makes us who we are. For in the actions of kindness, we can show outwardly to the rest of the world that there is a part of the world that cares for others. To me, this is part of the reminder of how we are all connected to one another…and to me, that is the promise for the future. The promise from Lughnasadh.

More Aspects of My Druidry

My Druidry is more than a lifestyle, it is who I am, what I do, and what I experience. Druidry is not just a Spiritual framework through which I practice rituals, work magick (when necessary), or what not. Druidry is a part of who I am, the lens through which I see the world, and the manner in which I approach all aspects of my life. There are Druid authors and individuals to whom I look to for inspiration and guidance. Their approach to their own Druidry matters to me because it shows me different experiences and reactions to the world around me, which lets me grow in my own knowledge and experiences.

How about we start with what I consider to be the most obvious perspective, but others may not readily notice. I am no holy-man. My approach to Druidry is my own. I openly express it so that others might see a different approach that they can borrow or steal from as they need to. After all that borrow/steal approach is how I have slowly built my own approach over the last thirty years.

I’m not a re-constructionist in any manner of the word. My idea of how I approach my Spirituality is not about trying to re-create what has come before. Nor am I trying to build something for others. I am flattered when others see something that I do in my approach and adopt/steal/borrow/adapt it for themselves, but my intention was never to create that for others. Its merely a matter of what I do.

Nor am I looking to appropriate something from another culture. I work directly with two First Nations’ Gods, but I do not utilize any ritual aspect of the People in what I do. As I have noted before, the Gods call who They call. Taking from the cultural and ritual aspects of the People was never a part of the bargain I struck.

My Druidry is not about magick and spell-casting. I have never been good at that, and would prefer to leave that to those who are. I use magick and spells only when I have no other recourse available to me. My Druidry is about connectivity – with the land, with my neighbors, with the Gods, with my Ancestors. My Druidry focuses on exploring those connections, finding the wisdom that I can from all of that, and adding it, where suitable, to what I do.

An amazing view from Grand Teton National Park

I see my Druidry in nearly every aspect of my daily life. I experience the connectivity to the Wheel of the Year in the local farmers’ fields. I see the birthing cycles of the cows in the pastures I drive past on my way to work. I see the seasons of the year in the trees and fields all around, and in the people I communicate with. The changes in the color of the foliage. The way that people dress. I can feel the changes in their moods throughout their day. I can feel their tense moments, their joys, their difficult moments in life, and yes, even their anger. I always try to make myself available to listen to them, to share in their triumphs, and be there, as needed, for the sad and angry moments. My Druidry is about connections and exploring that.

My Druidry is also about my Ancestors, both the people that have come before, and those that are here. My relationship with my family is not the strongest. I am very different from them. Most are consumed by the politics of the day, and prefer to argue and bicker over such things. Most are ultra-conservative in their perspective, and a few will even utilize that perspective in anger. I have slowly taken the time to listen, ask questions where I can, and let their derision flow past the conversation at hand, and try to focus on the underlying topic. That aspect of finding the focus in a river of anger, mockery, and stubbornness is becoming a part of my Druidry. How can help to heal when I focus on the trigger words that are utilized to cover their wounds? My Ancestors of the Past are easier to work with, though there are the questions on why I stepped away from their Christian faith.

Many people see what has become to be called “the Storm.” I see the swing of the pendulum to an opposite extreme. My Druidry is also about balance. Much like the swing of the clock’s pendulum, the world has a balance between many different sides. Understanding those invisible tides can always be a challenge, but it has become a part of my Druidry. I stand at the edges, ready to defend those that need defense, and to counsel, console, and listen for those that need it. My Druidry is about showing the compassion for those that are seeking it. I am not seeking to change others, but am available to help when they require a steadying hand. My desire for change is within myself, and from that, I can only hope that others will seek change as well.

As I noted in the start of this post, these are aspects of my Druidry. This is definitely not the totality of what comprises my beliefs or my approach. This is just a small part of that entire perspective. In this blog, I have spent a lot of time relating to other parts. I will start focusing on the Wheel of the Year and how I approach that aspect of my Druidry. I’ll start with the most recent stop on the Wheel – Lughnasa and Lammas – in the next blog post.

Health – a Reminder

As I wrote earlier, July 3rd was a rough day for me. At approximately 5pm on that day, I collapsed in my office suite in front of a few of my coworkers. From the accounts I have gotten from those who were there, I had stopped breathing for almost a full minute before I came to. After that, the paramedics arrived and whisked me to the Emergency Room at the nearby hospital. After a few hours, I was moved to the Intensive Care Unit, where I did not come to until around 7pm on July 4th. I had a high blood glucose reading of over 1100, insanely high from where I should be normally (120-160). I had suffered a diabetic seizure. As I have read up on this, i have come to realize that it was not my heart that had stopped, but my brain. I could have suffered brain damage. I could have died. I was lucky.

Many people go through very intense experiences through events such as this. Mine did not happen until after the fact. On July 6th, I was released from ICU and sent home. That night, my first at home since the seizure, I came face-to-face in a dream-state with Crow.

“What did you think you were doing?” I had been trying to figure out which of my numerous medications were making my feet swell. Since my doctor’s nurse practitioner had stated that the swelling would “eventually go away”, I had taken matters into my own hands. I used the only method I could think of – stop all my medications and take only one for three days and check my feet during that time. Not a wise move on my part, but it was the only method I could think of. “I have need for you that I cannot get elsewhere. But I can only stop certain things from happening, so often.” It was quite clear that my Patron God was unhappy with my actions.I was given an ultimatum of sorts…either follow through with what was asked or be on my own.

I enjoy a very strong relationship with Crow. But to be scolded like a five-year-old child has never been part of that. I promised to do better, and the response came back to prove it. That meant a re-dedication to Crow, which I prepared myself for, and did a few nights later at the stone circle in the backyard.

Now, there will be those who claim all this to be my imagination getting away with me. Frankly, I do not care what is said. I know what I have experienced, and continue to experience. Their opinions mean nothing to me. They can say what they want to. Hurled insults and ridicule mean little to me. Sure, their words have a sting, but my life is not about trying to please them. My life is about my own experiences, what I learn, what I see, the people I met and connect with…that’s what matters more than anything else. I control what matters to me, and I control how much or little the opinions of others fit into all of that.

I have always inwardly scoffed at the perspective of near-death experiences. Those have always felt so phony to me. Until now. From 5pm on July 3rd to 7pm July 4th, I remember nothing. My brain had shut down because my blood was too thick to be utilized properly. So, if that what death was like, then it was a removal of the aspect of experience that can best describe it. Is that death? I am not sure but it certainly describes an aspect of what I would seriously consider to be death. Its an environment that I hope to never experience again – though I do know that there will come a point where my body will completely fail me. What lies beyond that, I am not completely sure, as I have noted.

My relationship with Crow has been renewed. But with that comes the need to follow through on various things that were asked. Some of these have long range implications and are a little complicated. I have worked on these in smaller pieces, which is the speed I need to continue. Smaller, shorter range items, require a bit more speed and urgency behind those. This experience has lit a small fire of urgency under those. My “spanking” from Crow impressed on me the need to complete things that were asked.

Yes, I have gotten lazy in aspects of my Spirituality. I have also gotten lazy in aspects of my friendships. I moved up here near the Oklahoma/Texas border to be closer to my job, and to have a slower lifestyle than living in the city. I have lived more as a recluse than anything else. It is long past time to no longer be that recluse. That means changes, opportunities that are elsewhere, and making decisions that I didn’t think I would have to make. Now, I have to seriously put consideration into those.

The only piece of advice I can really hand out is this: do not put other things in front of your health. If your charge is to help others, you cannot help them when you cannot function yourself. If your charge is something else, you cannot have the experiences you should have when your health is poor or failing. You have to take care of yourself.

The below picture is from the afternoon before a lunar eclipse. The location is near Dolores, Colorado. Not taking care of my health means that I will not be able to fully experience places and sights such as this.

Seeking Baggage in Percentages and Stereotypes or Someone Call a Porter For Me

There are not that many folks who grew up as Pagans (though that number keeps getting bigger and bigger as time goes on). Thus, many of us have come from other backgrounds and theologies from when we were growing up. Not many folks got the chance to experiment and check out other belief systems. Usually, we all tagged along with our parents to whatever church or belief system that they were into. Me? Well, my family were Methodists, but my parents wanted me to have the ideology and beliefs of the Catholic church instilled into me. Thus, I was put into Catholic schools from the sixth grade on. When the sisters or the priests would ask me how I believed, I would always respond that I was Methodist. They would point out that I understood when to stand, sit, and genuflect better than the Catholic children did. I guess I took the concept of understanding the theology that was presented to me better than others. Or maybe I just didn’t want to look so obviously different by merely sitting quietly (the option provided to the non-Catholics that had to come to the mandatory service). Whatever the case, a lot of those posturing movements stuck with me over the years, just as much of what we learned from our various previous theological aspects have stuck with us over the years. Some folks call this our “Christian baggage”.

Some of the hills around the Red Rocks amphitheater, which sits about 9,500, compared to the estimated 30,000 Druids in the US

Recently on Facebook, Morgan Daimler brought up this aspect of “Christian baggage” that is apparently strewn throughout our cultural society. As an example, when you first meet a person, most folks will assume that this individual is a Christian of some kind. As if the auto-default for folks in America is Christian. That default setting seems to imply a bias of sorts towards Christianity, but is this bias because of baggage, a leftover set of internal programming from our days as younger folks?

Leaning on the Wikipedia page titled “Religion in the United States”, 73.7% of the total population in the United States is Christian of some sort. The statement goes further to include Protestants (48.9%), Catholics (23.0%), and Mormons (1.8%) into the Christian classification. Judaism is the second largest population at 2.1% and Islam drops in at 0.8%. Calculating this all together, this makes a total of 76.6%, meaning that Paganism, Atheism, Agnosticism, and dozens upon dozens of other beliefs make a total of 23.4%. With a nearly three to one ratio, it certainly seems to imply that the programming is correct to one degree. What about the Pagan groups?

In the same Wikipedia article, it cites a study by the American Religious Identification Survey that estimates that there are approximately 30,000 Druids in the United States. It also states that Wicca is the far more populous group within the Neo-Pagan (their words not mine) grouping. I’d estimate that the difference between Wicca and Druidry could be as high as a four-to-one ratio. Hardly anything to challenge even the lowest percentage of less than a percent for the followers of Islam. So I would, again, make the assumption that the default setting being Christianity in most aspects of assumption would be correct. Annoying as fuck, but correct.

So, the better question is whether we should be pissed off when people assume that we are Christian, particularly if they do not ask the question. Well, I would suggest that assuming things about people is not the nicest thing to do. Assumptions tend to lean into aspects of stereotyping, which takes us down paths towards racism, ageism, gender discrimination, and spending time beating up on Gingers (red-heads).

I, for one, am not a fan of stereotypes whatsoever. As an example, when I went to the convention in San Diego for one of my college’s vendors, after my presentation I was asked by folks from another college up near Minneapolis if I helped herd cows in the pasture after I got off of work. Now, these folks were trying to be light-hearted and break the conversational “ice” but its a stereotype that grates on my nerves. Yes. I live in Texas. Yes. I drive down Farm-to-Market roads that bisect six different cow pastures. Yes. I understand where I am in the season by the size of the calves in the fields. And yes, I have helped herd a cow from off the road back into the pasture. It is, after all, a neighborly thing to lend a hand where it is needed and necessary, even if my cow herding skills are non-existent (which they are). I did not fire off a retort nor did I chide them for their statement. I laughed lightly, and moved the conversation elsewhere. Pick your fights wisely.

So, as I continue to pick through all of this – trying to find an obvious aspect of Christian influence within secular US culture, I just cannot find it. Certainly, there are some aspects where people will use the default assumption that *everyone* is Christian and bring something Christian to the forefront (prayers at football games, before meals, when things go haywire – everyone seems to default to praying to a Christian-inspired aspect of God, for instance). However, as I noted in the statistics, at three-to-one ratio of Christian to everything else, the assumption is a fairly safe one to make.

Again, I have to wonder if this is even a fight worth picking. Paganism is a growing religion, but I sincerely doubt that we will see it rise to any kind of percentage growth to rival Judaism at a little more than two percent of the total population. At least not in the near generations. Personally, I think combating the constant default to stereotypical understanding of those who are not like you, would be a far better aspect to strive for. That; however, is me dreaming of a world where people have a much higher degree of respect for others. At this point in our collective societal atmosphere, I fear I am spitting into the wind.

Moving Through Life and Taking a Breather

“You can’t do that.” “You’re not capable of what is going to be asked of you in working towards that goal.” “You’re just not good enough to be at that level.”

I used to hear these all the time from my parents when I was growing up. I was constantly and consistently told that I didn’t have what it took to succeed at various tasks or reach specific goals. The bad thing about constantly hearing that, is that eventually it became the default setting towards trying to succeed at anything on my own. It took a long time before I started to realize what they were trying to do. They were not out to destroy my self-confidence, but try to place me into less intensive moments where I could have an easier time of succeeding. Still, looking back into my childhood, I do wish my parents were a little more open to letting me try and failing – and then encouraging me to get better at certain things before I tried again (and encouraging me to try again). I still carry the scars and programming from this with me to this day. Though I’ve been somewhat successful in de-programming myself to the default of not trying because, as Pink Floyd points out in the song “Fearless”, ” You say the hill’s too steep to climb.” (Pink Floyd, ‘Fearless” from the album Meddle.)

Me at the 2015 ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat (photo by John Beckett)

I spent seven years on my Bardic Grade in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Now, I find myself at the halfway point of the same time-frame within my Ovate Grade. Life gets in the way, sometimes I get stuck on a particular point, I sometimes forget that there is the message board available to me for assistance and moral support. Plus, there’s always my mentor that I can turn to, along with numerous other members that I know that are also on their Ovate Grade studies, Druid grade members, and those who have finished all three courses that I can lean to for assistance. There’s lots of sources for assistance, so why do I let myself wind up in bogged down places? Because I am stubborn. Very much so.

Its not that I cannot comprehend difficult conceptual information. I proved that back when I was in high school and took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT), scoring among the highest grades in my class. I also posted the seventy-fourth lowest grade point average among my senior class, a graduating class of seventy-five. My GPA came about because of boredom and disinterest. If I was interested in the course I was taking, my grade point average was high (History, and Basic Computer Systems). If I was uninterested, my grades reflected that, Theology (Catholic), Mathematics (any), and English (except personal writing assignments). As a point of comparison, I showed up to my ACT test hung-over from a heavy night of partying on that Friday night (the test was Saturday morning, 7am sharp). My younger sister, who had a stellar GPA at her high school (I went to all-boys Catholic school, she went to the all-girls sister Catholic high school across town), studied almost nightly for the ACT for three months’ prior to the test. My scores were far above her’s, leading to a declaration that “its just not fair!”

The reality was that my parents’ did not expect much of me at that point. Thus, there was no pressure on my to perform well on the exam. No pressure meant that I could just show up, read the instructions, take the test, and be done with it. Whatever I scored, is what I scored. I suspect, my approach to my Bardic and Ovate studies has been much the same. I show up, I do what I can in the studies, and whatever the outcome winds up being is the outcome. Except…I get stuck on concepts and topics. As I noted above, Theology has never been an interest of mine; though my teacher in my Junior and Senior years was a fascinating man. Mr. K. L. (I do not have permission to use his name…mostly because I did not approach him about it when writing this) had a way of using everyday life to teach topics, which made the class somewhat interesting and ket very dry topics just a touch more “juicy” then they would have been. Its that teaching style that I carried into the classroom when I taught during my first three years working in the college.

So, let’s circle back around to the start of this little discussion, what my parents’ used to say to me about succeeding in various things. A lot of what was said to me came from my mother’s dislike of my personal appearance. I’m not the snazziest dresser in the world. Honestly, popular fashion can kiss my ass. I dress to be comfortable. It just so happens I am more comfortable in concert t-shirts and a pair of jeans. I prefer my balding hair to be long, not because I am hiding my fading hairline (which I’m not – male pattern baldness sucks) but because I am most comfortable with my hair in such a way. My mother’s desire was for me to become a doctor or a lawyer, not because of what those jobs do, but rather because of what those jobs PAY. Again, another clash of thoughts between us, because I look at money as a means to have a place to live, clothes on my back, and food on the table. Whatever is left over can pay for the “extra” stuff in life – IF there is money leftover. My job isn’t about trying to achieve the “extra” stuff, its about being of service to others. I work in a college, and my job deals with metrics and looking at trends in terms of things like enrollment, grading, etc etc. If something looks “off” in the trends, I report it to my supervisors. The hope is that it can become an actionable item to help students achieve success, in whatever means that provides. My salary is meager, at best, but I never took this job for the salary. I took this job to be of service to the students enrolled in this college. As you can see, when my mother was alive and cognizant (before her dementia robbed her of so many memories), we were constantly butting heads.

So, as I falter in the completion of my Ovate Gwers and begin to see the same pattern of working through my Bardic Grade starting to arise, I have to remind myself about my de-programming, my personal stubbornness to fight constantly with a problem until I resolve it; as well as my inherent laziness that pops up from time to time. There are so many factors that play into my lack of speed working through this material, as well as working through other aspects of life. Being so critical hard on myself for not moving at better speeds only makes things a little worse. Sometimes, I just gotta give myself a little bit of a break over this so-called “failures” and remind myself that these are not “failures”. That sometimes, when traveling down the Path, you gotta stop at one of the benches along the way, sit down, and take a breather. And I am good enough to do this; whatever it may be. I amy fail a few times, but I can always try again.

Free Will, the Gods and Us. One Perspective.

I work with two Gods and a Goddess, on a semi-regular basis. None of my Gods demand a whole lot of me, but when They do, the request is fairly straight-forward. There’s not a whole lot of guessing as to what is being required of me, but there’s a ton of ambiguity when it comes to the “why” part of things. Rarely do I get that explained to me. After all, I’m not a God or Goddess, and I’m not really privy to what Their agency in this world is about. I get a request to complete a task. A lot of people think that you can’t say “no” to a God or that you cannot bargain with Them over the equitable recompense that provided at the end of the task being asked. You can do so….respectfully.

See, the Gods are asking for our help. Sometimes, those requests can come across as being demanding, but the reality is that you can say no or even negotiate. After all, you have Free Will, and its not just a Christian concept. Free Will provides you with the choice of how to respond. Just because you work with a particular God or Goddess does not mean that you do whatever is asked of you, or even accept the requested price for your services. You can reject the recompense and request a different bargaining price or even reject the request outright. That doesn’t mean that there might not be a consequence for the bargaining change or the outright rejection, you have to weigh that into your response as well, but you have the Self-Agency to reject or make changes to the task.

Now, let’s be clear about something, I am not suggesting that the Gods are some kind of Automated Banking Teller that just drops goodies, knowledge or experiences whenever you want those items. The Gods will exchange what They have for what They are asking of you. Its a fair barter system, with the “fair” part being judged and weighed by all parties. If there’s a judgment of inequity by any of the involved parties, this barter-style transaction will either be amended until all parties find a balanced equity or the transaction is outright rejected by a single party with no equitable re-offer provided. But the Gods don’t just drop loot on the floor and give it away for nothing more than an outstretched hand begging for help.

There’s also another side to the entire transaction as well, the Gods have Free Will as well. You ask for assistance with your favorite Social Justice issue with your favorite God or Goddess, They can reject you outright without explanation as well. Just as you have the capability to reject Their requests for assistance, They can reject your requests as well. The Gods have their own aspects of Free Will that They can follow, without explanation. I know quite a few folks that see their requests of the Gods to be similar to the Christian concept of imploring the aspects of the Holy Trinity through prayer. They have to listen. They have to respond. They cannot leave Their followers just hanging. Wanna bet on that?Even the Christian God has the opportunity to not heed the calls of His followers’ prayers. Just as we have Free Will, so do the Gods. And just as we don’t owe a single explanation to the Gods when we reject Their requests; They owe us no explanation as well.

Now, I noted that the Gods can extract consequences from us when we do not heed Their call; well, we can do the same in return for Them. We can choose not to follow Them in our rites. We can choose to not provide them the worship that we provide, if we feel that Their non-answers to our requests merit that kind of action. There are always consequences for any kind of action that is deemed to merit that kind of response. After all, working with the Gods is a relationship, which both sides must nurture and grow. Both dictated by our own unique aspects of individual Free Will.

Have I rejected a God before? No, nor do I plan to. Not unless I am asked to do something that I just cannot ethically bring myself to do. And before I reject the request outright, I would attempt to bargain and structure the request in a way that I could accomplish in a manner that doesn’t challenge my own individual ethics. If I could not find a way to restructure, only after a failed attempt at bargaining would I reject the request outright. To me, that is the ethically way to deal with the issue.

And the entire process? Doesn’t happen in split seconds in my head. It can take weeks of thought, debate, discussion, and musing. Things like this don’t usually happen in split second thought processes.

Now, there will be those that will describe all of this as folly in my own mind. I grok that perspective. I disagree with it, but I grok where it comes from. But I am not writing this for those people. They can deal with their own Spiritual processes on their own, quite well without me. And I will deeply respect that the process works quite well for them and not try to find ways to punch holes in how they believe. To do so, would indeed be folly on my part, since I look at all aspects of how people approach Spirituality on their own as a sacred process worthy of my respect, not my ridicule. But for those that do understand. Those Polytheists that do see the Gods as unique individuals that can be communicated with, reasoned and bargained with, and worthy of our time and passion, I offer what I have written as one way to approach the Gods and communicate with Them. Not a Bible of how to do so, but merely my perspective into doing so. Remember, They are unique Beings, just as we are…They have Free Will too.