A Look Back – and Forwards – on Personal Sovereignty (Sort Of)

So I thought I would try and tackle the concept of Personal Sovereignty again. But for a lot of different reasons than before. I have mentioned before that part of personal sovereignty means that you have the ability to say “No” to anyone. The Gods, your fellow magickal practitioners, the guy wanting to buy you a drink at the bar – anyone. At any time. You are in control of you. Wikipedia defines the concept thus:

Self-ownership (also known as sovereignty of the individual, individual sovereignty or individual autonomy) is the concept of property in one’s own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one’s own body and life. Self-ownership is a central idea in several political philosophies that emphasize individualism, such as liberalism and anarchism.

Ok. So it seemingly is a central concept of political schematics such as liberalism and anarchism. Whoopee. Its the first two sentences that I am most concerned with. Not just in the matter of how one handles dealing with Gods (and in my case, two Trickster Gods that can make soccer hooligans appear to have no sense of humor), but also in relation to a lot of other perspectives – especially in our manners of discourse, online and face-to-face.

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Photo by John Beckett

This whole concept of personal sovereignty seemingly revolves around the concept that you control you. Or in more Libertarian terms, you are the sole individual responsible for your actions and words. Excuses such as “The Gods told me to do it” or “The Devil made me do it” are essentially you giving away the control of you to something else. Or using this concept of momentary “possession” as an “explanation” for your bad behaviors. I do believe in possession of an Otherworldly fashion, and I do believe that it can happen involuntarily. I also believe that such occurrences are few and very far between. In more open terms, I believe it to be an excuse of convenience rather than a norm of behavior. In my mind, allowing an entity to utilize your physical entity as a means of communicating is much more likely – you provide permission for that to happen. Which means you can still say “no”. Hopefully, I’m as clear as mud on all of that. I am not a professional or an expert on any of that – except where it relates to me.

No one knows me better than I do. After all, at this point, I have lived fifty-two and a half years in this body – with this wonky brain. I understand who I am, and I do the best that I can to articulate my position on issues, so that others can have a moment or two to add to their own thoughts on an issue. I am not compelling anyone to respond to my thoughts – people will respond if they want to. Nor am I compelling them to even think about the issue that is on my mind. They will decide whether its an issue worthy of being turned over within their mind. I am; however, responsible for what I write and post here. I am also responsible for what I do and say in my everyday life. I can be just as controversial as the next person. But If I run away from what I say, do or write…I am not owning up to my responsibility for my own sovereignty. Let’s put that in a more palatable way. When I make excuses for my actions or words, I am not living up to the responsibility of taking ownership of myself.

I hate that last sentence. For me, it has connotations of wrapping chains around me, but the statement is truthful. I am responsible for me. Even if I do not like the terminology in use. For me, its more than imagery that comes to mind under the word “ownership.” But that’s my own ax to grind within my own mind.

So, some baseline thoughts here. If I say it or write it…I need to mean it. Especially on difficult, serious topics. I have a pair of Trickster Gods with me – I tend to lean towards the humorous in a lot of discussions. But even Trickster Gods have serious moments. So do I. We currently live in a time where people with power (however that power is denoted, defined and/or provided to them) are purposefully creating barriers and hardships for others whom they do not like. Skin color, eye color, hair color, the amount of nose hairs someone may or may not have…the reasons are out there (sometimes well hidden, sometimes not). There are definitely times to be quite serious, and there are times where levity can be injected into a situation. Those individuals of power have some degree of sovereignty over us, but that sovereignty, that power is provided to them by us. Typically, these people of power get their position of authority from those of us that vote at the ballot box. We hand over a part of our sovereignty to them when we vote to have these people represent us. Sometimes, the vote doesn’t go our way, and we accept the outcome because that is how elections are handled. Its a process that we as a collective group of people agree to abide by. Otherwise, we would have risen up and thrown off that aspect of sovereignty that we provided in this process – and chosen some other measure.

Now, all of that is politics. When we decide to hate others, simply because of who they voted for. Or because their ideas of how to solve a problem doesn’t match ours. We hand a piece of sovereignty over to an emotion – we allow the emotion to control our thoughts and actions towards these people. When we cross the lines of a law, we blame it on the emotion and claim we were’t in control. We say awful things to people we held in esteem and considered to be friends or allies – all because they didn’t fit in completely with the puzzle piece we currently hold in our hand. We create a litmus test for who is the “correct” kind of person, and who is not. Granted, there are monsters among us. There are people that do serve to be shunned for their actions and words. But I would hope – and pray – that we hold that particular cage for people that truly deserve it, not just because their opinions differ from our own.

I am who I am. Good and bad. There is a quote from the Highlander TV series that sticks with me, when I consider things like this:

Life is about change, about learning to accept who you are: good or bad.  –Duncan McLeod to Methos

I am no saint. I am no paragon of virtue. I am a simple man. Trying to live a simple life in a complicated, out-of-control world. I am not responsible for you, and you are not responsible for me. You are responsible for you. I am responsible for me. For my part in all of that – I own who I am. Both the good parts and the bad parts. And within my own personal sovereignty, I get to say “no” to others, including the Gods, including myself. Because what I say and what I do matters. #TwoQuid

 

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Episode 019 – This Is It!

IMG_7076Yeah, it has been a while since I have put out a blog post. Two things have been taking up all that time to write – trying to finish up the last episode of the podcast, and the need to handle some Self-Care. My head-space has been in a place where I look at my ever-growing to-do list and just freeze up from all the stuff that is there to get done. And that place is not a pleasant one, to be sure. I pride myself on being able to get things done and staring at a list of things that need to get done just reminds me over and over again that no matter how hard I try, that list will continue to grow. Completed tasks will always be replaced by new tasks that need to get done. Some of those tasks will replace themselves, as it becomes a repeating cycle of completion, setup, complete again – over and over.

Since I announced the end of the podcast, I have had a ton of folks come out of the woodwork – telling me how much they enjoyed both Upon a Pagan Path and my first podcast From the Edge of the Circle. There has been an echo about how listening to me helped them understand how they needed to work their way through their own journey of finding themselves within the complicated gathering under the big tent of Paganism, as John Beckett calls it. I not only appreciate those telling me this, as this was the whole point of doing these podcast episodes all these years – to show others that they can work their own way through the forest. The trees may seem thick, the brush may seem daunting and difficult to get through – but somewhere is that clearing in the forest that you seek. Where you can sun yourself and rest, assured that you found that place where you clearly belong. I did just that, over the last thirty-four years. And as cliche as it sounds, if I can do it – so can you.

Sitting here writing this, Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” has come on the Sirius XM channel that I listen to. What a soundtrack to listen to while I write this…I have never fashioned myself much as a “cowboy” but as I grow older, I find myself gravitating to one of the archetypes – the drifter. I have the long trench-coat to wear in the cold winter nights. I have the cowboy boots now (something I never envisioned myself getting), and I am seeking out a cowboy-style hat to wear. Aside from the hat, I lack the crow feathers to attach it as well. Yeah, what an image, eh? The lyrics of this song remind me quite a lot about myself.

Each night I go to bed, I pray to Crow my soul to keep
No, I ain’t lookin’ for forgiveness, but before I’m six foot deep
Crow, I gotta ask a favor, and I’ll hope you’ll understand
‘Cause I’ve lived life to the fullest, let this boy die like a man

Yeah, I took some license with the lyrics…Bon Jovi prays to the Christian God in the lyrics, which does not work for me. Besides, I have plenty more life to live before this becomes a reality, at least I hope so.

On the podcast, you will find an interview I did in February with John Beckett. I consider John to be more than just a friend. For me, he is family. Someone who has always been supportive. John has been there for my initiations into the Bardic and Ovate grade, gestures of support that I deeply appreciate. We do not always agree on how to approach a particular topic…as it should be. We are not the same person. My Path is not a carbon copy of his, nor is he likely to be swayed into the world of Tricksters. We sometimes travel the same dirt, but we are responsible for our own footfalls. I appreciate John’s willingness to be the first interview I did for the podcast and becoming the point of full-circle as the last.

Also on the podcast, you will find the music of Melanie Gruben. For me, she is a new artist. Her music is exquisite and has accompanied me on several long drives that I have taken. If you enjoy her music, please go to her website and buy her music. I was given her music to play on the podcast – and like with any of the other independent musicians that I play, I will be buying her music very shortly. The music industry has changed quite a bit over the years, and the independent musician has a better chance of making it by working on their own, rather than depending on the dying gyrations of the big music corporations. But that requires word-of-mouth advertising, which I am doing here and on the podcast itself. Please support your favorite musicians by purchasing their music, that small monetary donation means more than you know for them.

So here is a link to the finished podcast, the last I will ever accomplish on my own. Maybe someone will invite me onto their own show, perhaps not. But I am proud of everything I brought to you. Just remember, the point of all of this was to show you that you can blaze your own trail within your own Spirituality. But just like any point of improvisation, you will need to learn the basics first.

All I can really finish with is a heartfelt “thank you”. Thank you for listening. Thank you for downloading. Thank you for finding inspiration in what I have said. Thank you for listening to the folks I brought to you on the podcast. And thank you to all the folks that I featured on the show – John Beckett, Troy Young, Joanna van der Hoeven, Brendan Howlin, Brendan Myers, the amazing Bran Cerddorion, Chris Godwin (the most amazing ritualist I have ever encountered), and Cat Treadwell, who remains one of my most favorite people on this planet. Each of them provided a piece of who they are and what they have created on this podcast, and it has been my pleasure to bring them to all of you. Many of them have books available…much like musicians, please consider purchasing their materials.

Lastly, I am not getting out of the interviewing world. I plan on interviewing more people, and discussing how they got to where they are on their own personal Paths. I will be doing all of that via Soundcloud. You can find the site here. The interviews will solely be discussion pieces. No podcasting stuff to add around it. The discussions will be unedited so some of the discourse may be a little NSFW. And to other podcasters out there, if you want to use a discussion that I post there – please ask beforehand. I am happy to provide the files, but I also would prefer to get the permission of the individual(s) that I had on the recording as well.

I, again, appreciate you taking time out of your own day to listen to the podcast. Thank you or allowing me to be a small part of your world and your journey. I hope you continue with me here on the blog. And who knows, I might even have a book in me. That is still up for debate at the moment – I am never sure of what to really write about when it comes to something along those lines. But who knows…

A fire’s gotta burn
The world is gonna turn
Rain has gotta fall
Fate is gonna call
But I just keep on breathing
Long as my heart is beating
Someone’s gotta hate
It’s never gonna change
Gets harder every day
It’s a hell of a place
To keep your heart from freezing
To keep yourself believing
But I won’t run
I’m not afraid
I’ll look em in the eye
Gonna hear me say
It’s my life, my love, my sex, my drug, my lust
My God, it ain’t no sin
Can I get it, can I get an Amen
–Halestorm, “Amen”

 

 

Direct Download link:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/paganpath/Episode_019_-_This_Is_It.mp3

 

Stems and Pieces – Unintentional Thoughts on Beginnings and Endings

One of the odd moments of blogging is where you have all these “mini” topics floating around. John Beckett calls these his “Nine Things I Think” and has turned these into a near regular segment of his blog. Me? I’ve called these various things, but the one that keeps coming about is “Stems and Pieces” – being a fan of mushrooms….  Rarely do I have nine things…but here are a few things playing with the hamsters on the wheels in my head…

BookofQuotesTomorrow morning will be the release of the last podcast episode I plan on doing. This will be the second podcast I have brought to a close. I just do not have the time to really dedicate to putting together a full show. I will continue doing interviews with various folks and placing those interviews on Soundcloud…but no more complex mixing of a podcast for me anymore. When I shut down From the Edge of the Circle, I wasn’t too sure about letting go of something I put nearly nine years of my life into. Now, nearly three years later…I know this is the right choice. My mind is not in a state of melancholy of stepping away from the podcasting world…I have enjoyed my time doing these, but it certainly is time to move into what I have been spending my time doing: my writing. Besides, there will still be interviews…

A short while back, Philip Carr-Gomm brought about the public transition of one chosen Chief – himself – to another – Eimear Burke. Now, a lot of folks know that I am a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I have been tossed a handful of questions privately asking for my opinion. Well, first off, I am just a member. A solitary one at that. While OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering (GCG) is the closest thing I have to a spiritual family, I am a solo practitioner here on the Texas-Oklahoma border. My first reaction was one of shock – particularly after having just met Philip face-to-face at this years GCG just a few months prior. But after re-reading Philip’s statement on his blog (here), I cannot help but to be overwhelmed by the amount of thought and love that went into deciding this transition, as well as finding an individual with whom he is at ease with to walk through this process. Most leadership changes happen very quickly. This one will take place over time, allowing for a gradual transition from Philip to Eimear. And I am so thankful that such careful thought went into the all the aspects of this, particularly the speed. In my opinion, it will help ease what – at least for me – has been a sudden shock.

Another aspect of transition within Druidry is when one passes beyond the veil. Yesterday morning, I woke up to the shock that Anthony Bourdain’s suicide had occurred. At first, I tried to fathom the idea that someone who seemed to be so full of life and had such a relish for adventure would want to end their life. But that is really a wrong thought. I have no idea of what was the tipping point in Anthony’s life, merely the speculation of what I saw on the camera. And I have to be a little realistic – all my speculation is merely me pasting my own ideas of life on to Bourdain. It is such a natural thing to do – assuming that others feel the exact same way that you do. We do it when we think about politics, the social causes we champion, how we feel about others – we paste our feelings, emotional IQ, and intellectual processes on to others. How can they NOT feel the same way that we do? And if they do not, they must be emotionally bankrupt, incapable of feeling or emotion, or incapable of “properly” processing information in a “proper” manner. I did just that with Bourdain’s death. I have no desire to slip beyond the veil anytime soon. I love life here far too much. There is so much more that I desire to do, so much more that I desire to see, to experience. How could anyone else not feel that way?? Yeah…monovision…hyper-focused inside of me…rather than taking the subtle differences between myself and others. One of those personality faults that I wish were not a part of who I am…but a part of me that allows me inner flame to burn as brightly as it does. A two-edged sword indeed. Bourdain’s CNN program was one that I caught occasionally, and I marveled at the things he would do and try. I sincerely hope that his storytelling style inspires others to reach out into the unknown around themselves – and experience things they never dreamed of. It is definitely something I take away from watching Bourdain’s experiences…to always try something new….

Many folks are understanding and experiencing aspects of the Storm in their lives. A lot of this is, in my opinion, about taking the perspectives of others into account. There certainly is some normalizing of dismissive behaviors that have gone on in the past. A lot of folks have called it “privilege” which is a wording pattern I dislike. Sure, it might be because I am a white, hetero, middle-aged male. Yeah, whatever. I just do not get into the concept of shaming folks. To me, that is just pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. I’d rather yank the pendulum out of the clock, and not have the damn thing swing from one extreme to the other. Besides, we can use the Sun to tell approximate time…you know, the important stuff, like sunrise and sunset. The rest of the time can be figured out by your stomach. I would rather see people treat one another as equals, but that is an idealistic world. So, how do we change it all? I am not sure, I have no answers. However. I can change my thinking, and my actions, and my words…because I am in control of those things. No one else can change that…only me. Perhaps the true measure of revolution comes from the mind of the individual, rather than the rage of the mob. Perhaps Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was on to something…I would like to hope so. When you look at a battlefield, all you see is the carnage. The dead bodies. The destroyed equipment. The ravaged, deep scars of where weapons have created massive craters. Where forests have been destroyed by the combat within or burned down as a result of that combat. All the animals that have died or moved deeper into the forests to escape the destruction and havoc wreaked by man fighting man. We turn away, thinking there is nothing that can be saved or recovered from all of this devastation. A few years later, Nature returns when left to Her own devices. And all these beautiful flowers that have grown throughout that devastated land…that is hope. And that is what I am looking for…after the Storm. First, we have to find ways to manage and survive all of this. Because this will not be the end…

It is interesting to look back and read all of this. There is a lot of discussion of endings, with some notations of beginnings. I honestly did not intend any of that. At the same time, I am glad it organically developed – much like a simple stew that you keep adding ingredients into. Yeah, stems and pieces indeed…

 

Keyboard Druidry Just Doesn’t Work For Me

In my latest post over on the Moon Books platform, I made the statement:  “…Druidry is about being outside – hands in the dirt. While keyboards, laptops and CRT monitors have provided communication and connection, Druidry is not practiced as a keyboard warrior.”

Growing the Seed of CuriosityYeah, keyboard Druidry. As much as I hate to even think it exists, it does. After all, the internet is a vast area where connection is made, and opinion – informed and otherwise – is bandied about as expertise. Where folks with no knowledge of you practice your own everyday, personal Spiritual can easily condemn you for “doing it wrong” and provide no relational perspective to showcase the “why” of that statement, aside from their own personal opinion.

Yeah, the internet brings out all kinds of folks who like to assume a mantle of authority in what they set forth. An experience of a UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) type suddenly becomes the crux of what is wrong and right with everything from how to connect with a God or a Goddess, to what style of ritual framework is correct for doing this specific type of work, to so many other aspects of Paganism. And it is typically the internet where stuff like this tends to take place, where a “Pagan police” of sorts suddenly arises into existence. I still remember the inane “Are You Pagan Enough” cries that came about a few years back.

Here’s an interesting thought, before the Pagan Enough vigilante squad come looking for me:  I am the Pagan that I am. I’m not on my Spiritual Path to appease anyone else. My Spiritual Path doesn’t require me to be seen by others. Nor do I need to be seen doing a certain this or that in a public ritual. What I do within a public ritual is what I am called to say or do. None of that is meant to impress anyone. Crow and Coyote are the Gods that I primarily work with. Trust me, working with Trickster Gods is no picnic at times. But we have managed to develop a relationship between us that works. I’m not trying to insinuate myself into Native American rituals, and my work with both of Them approaches nothing within the Native American systems. The Gods call who They call. I wound up with these two. And while I am constantly puzzled by it, I am also reassured by the work I have done with Them. I do not work Them to impress anyone. My work with magick is minuscule, at best. My approach to magick and spell work is to use it only when necessary and all other “routine” measures have been tried.

Now, I will absolute assure you – someone out there read all of this and thought to themselves: “Tommy is just not ‘Pagan enough’ for me” for whatever reason. Welcome to keyboard Druidry. Despite everything that I write about here, someone will continue to take issue with how I work within my own Druidry. And you know what? I’m really ok with all of that. As I noted above, I’m not in this to impress anyone or even to conform to their standards of what is good or not. I’m also not here to argue back and forth about the differences between works for them and what works for me. Because I am not trying to create some kind of standard to Druidry…for anyone else. I know what has worked for me. I know some of the stuff that doesn’t work as well. I am always willing to try something new and different to see how it might or might not work for me. Beyond that, I am not here to compare penis length or who can piss the furthest distance. Because I just don’t care. My concept of Druidry is not a competition.

But I am here to encourage anyone who decides to try whatever Spiritual Path they desire. Yes, that includes fundamentalist Christianity – something that I just cannot find any fertile ground within, at least for me. But if someone else had a desire to learn more about it, I would encourage them to do just that. Which brings me to one of those moral rocks that I cannot change – as long as they practice their beliefs in a manner that does not interfere or harm others that believe differently. Now, I am not going to debate the merits of this within the precepts of fundamentalist Christianity, because I see a lot of the same mentality in fundamentalist Pagans as well. But I will stand between either of those groups if they decided to interfere with another person’s desires to learn a belief system that they would want to explore.

And to be completely honest, it likely goes for these keyboard Druids as well. If their idea of practicing their Druidry is to spend it hacking away at a keyboard and trying to create their own fundamentalist perspective in that manner – then go right ahead. All I can really do is place them in the same place as other internet trolls – people seeking to fight, bicker and argue over anything – I ignore them and move along. Because I would rather be outside, away from the keyboard I am currently typing on. I spend my entire work week in front of a keyboard. I’d rather spend the rest of my time barefoot in my backyard, or strapping on my hiking boots and seeking that next vantage point that lets me see the beauty of the world around me. Because that’s where I am at home…

 

What If…Seeking a Different Spot Around the Fire to Understand the Unctuous “Culture Wars” Concept

At one of the Hearthstone ADF Imbolc Retreats (I do not remember which one), John Beckett did a presentation that utilized a beautifully done meditation/visualization of a future where Paganism and Polytheism are more in the mainstream. Temples to the Gods were in evidence everywhere, and people openly showed their devotion to their chosen Gods and Goddesses. it was a gorgeous moment to experience, indeed. And while I was wrestling with a camera, I still allowed myself to feel some of what John was bringing forward in this vision of what tomorrow could be.

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“Mother Nature” located in the median of Central Avenue in front of the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Now, I am not one for playing the “what if” game too much, but this particular visualization has really stuck with me over time. How things can be changed into something we envision. How we can literally alter reality if we just find that tipping point – that idea that changes the current perception cultural perception of what is “normal”, and societal behaviors towards those things and ideas that are different from our own. Just what that moment will be, I have no idea. It could be an idea that germinates because of this blog, or even of sharing John’s beautiful vision. It could be something as simple as changing the way we deal with one another on a daily basis – treating each other with respect instead of suspicion and disdain. That tipping point could happen tomorrow. Maybe five months from now. Or five hundred years. In a manner of speaking, it is unfathomable. But the idea that it could take place is there. But let us play another “what if” game.

What if Paganism had never faded into the background of society? What if monotheistic Christianity always remained in a cult status? What if the Muslim faith had never grown to the degree that it is now? What if our world was still heavily permeated by Polytheistic beliefs and traditions? What if the roles that are in current motion in today’s society were completely reversed?

Now, I must preface part of this here. I am not a Psychologist by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my understanding of Psychology of any types is rudimentary at its very best – and that’s stretching that point quite thin. Nor am I a Theologian, amateur or otherwise. I am; however, an observer of human behavior. And I have been on the bad half of some of the worst of human interactions when it comes to dealing with things that are unknown and potentially threatening. Not one bit of this post should be taken that I am claiming to be an expert of any kind, merely my own personal observations and opinions. And with that touch of legalese out of the way…

When I was fairly young in my Pagan Path, I was in the United States military. While not exactly a true representation of American society, it can be considered a closed environment that mimics some social aspects of civilian society to a true degree. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a fairly protected environment for the free, open practice of one’s religious beliefs – to a point. One early morning, shortly after my picture and name appeared in a story entitled “Practicing Pagans” in the European theater newspaper “The Stars and Stripes, I was physically confronted at the Allied Post Office (APO) location on Sembach Air Base. I was recognized, called a Satanist and told it would be better if I had “the Hell beat out of” me. I knew neither of the individuals that confronted me. Over time, I have tried to understand what would have driven them to make such a brazen confrontation in a public place (it was 2am and we were the only ones inside the facility at the moment). The only rational perspective I can come up with is that they were uncomfortable with something that was “unknown” to them – and thus the painting of a perspective they felt they “understood” by calling me a Satanist.

I would love to think my fellow Pagans would be far more understanding of belief systems and practices that were foreign to their own concepts. And given that the majority of Pagans of our current modern age understand quite well what it is like to be in the position of being misunderstood, I also realize that this happens wearing glasses colored by where we are today. Were the roles reversed, with Paganism and Polytheism far more in the open for dozens of generations, accepted as the societal norm, incorporated to a greater degree within the laws and unwritten societal rules…well, I cannot say for certain that I believe Pagans would be reacting any different with that criterion placed upon them.

Human beings have a difficult time accepting things that are foreign to their own perceptions. Westerners, particularly Americans, are considered to be brash, loud, crude, inelegant, and generally unintellectual by many in far Eastern cultures. The differences come from generations of generations of socially acceptable behaviors that differentiate the two cultures. That differentiation allows for disdain from either culture concerning the way that each acts and reacts to situations and societal patterns. Not knowing or understanding these unwritten rules creates barriers between both cultures towards acceptance of the other, as well as insulting descriptives of one another. I believe that if Paganism had enjoyed the long era of social acceptance in the western culture that Christianity has had, that there would be equally troubling acceptance of other belief structures within the Pagan and Polytheist camps. I would even present a concept that some of the unaccepting aspects that are deeply embedded within Christianity have become so because of the length of time that such disdain has been developed within the understanding of the Christian faith from those theologians and practitioners that have essentially been deified over their own writings, discussions, etc etc. I fear that Paganism would really have been no different, were it in the same position under the same societal allowances and constrictions.

I am not saying that Pagans or Paganism practice an aspect of exclusion of those that are “different”. There are elements of that in small examples, but for the most part, Pagans are very accepting of others – even those that are diametrically opposed to their beliefs. Where individual beliefs and practices are legislated into non-existence, Pagans tend to be at the forefront of the fight to oppose such measures. Even when the legislation is aimed at those aforementioned opponents of Pagan beliefs. Were the roles reversed, I believe that there would be some aspect of similar issues of legislation to remove Christian faith. Not because of the Pagans, but because of the fact that PEOPLE are involved. And people tend to fear that which they do not understand, comprehend or fathom. People tend to fight that which they believe threatens their own existence.

So, in playing the “what if” game, I have found – for myself – a manner in which to understand some of the problems that the Christian faithful MAY have with those of other faiths. And in trying to understand the reticence of many Christians to even see how allowing others to find their own Spiritual paths hurts the entire concept of faith driven by a desire to have the free will to follow their G-d, I can understand more fully aspects of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s perspective that non-violent opposition is the best way to lead change. Violence, vilifying the other side with insults and pejoratives only continues to provide the fuel to their fires concerning “cultural wars” against their own faith. After all, it is far easier to motivate and cajole individuals to fight for a cause, when the cause is perceived to be an underdog that is on its knees in subjugation.

Coming back to the here and the now – Dr. King’s non-violent approach is the correct way to handle such issues. However, Dr. King’s perspective is not going to be effective if people are in your yard with torches in the middle of the night, ready to burn your house down. Nor is it going to be useful if those same people are also armed with handguns, ready to gun down anyone that tries to flee the cleansing fires of that home falling down upon them. Pacifism to show that you are no threat is one way to handle protests. However, there will/may come a time where you will need to fight for your life too. I pray to all the Gods, Goddesses, Spirits, and Ancestors that it never comes to that for anyone. I also pray that if it does, that They will assist you and your loved ones in finding a way to become safe.

I like John’s vision. In fact, prefer it over the concept that I have brought forth here. In my concept, nothing has really changed. The players have merely switched roles. And without the experiences of being the underdogs, I fear that the Pagans would merely assume the same roles that the Christians currently possess in today’s mainstream society. In John’s vision, both sides have become more self-actualized, understanding how each had a role in escalating issues to the deep “culture wars” divide that is so heavily touted in today’s society. In John’s vision, people have learned how to handle their differences in a more effective manner. And while I do think that the ultimate manner of reaching such a utopian perspective will only come with more anger, vitriol and eventually bloodshed, it certainly is a vision to try and strive for. But the tools that will get us there are not in our beliefs in theological constructs, but rather in the belief that we need to get to a place where all human beings are seen as equals – regardless of their differences. And that, I fear, is the dark labyrinthian path that we, as a human society, are only just starting to travel through. May all the Gods have mercy upon us all…

 

–T /|\

Working on Your Spirituality is Not About Fame or Becoming the Hero

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaWhen it comes to Paganism, there are a lot of misconceptions that get made, particularly by those from outside of it. A lot of it is infuriating stuff, such as the constant claim that Pagans are just devil-worshipers in disguise. This one point used to set me on-fire emotionally and would have likely evoked a strong, open rebuke of the individual. Even if the comment was not made directly to me or I only heard it in a passing conversation. yeah, my younger days when I was aflame with my Paganism on my sleeve.

I eventually learned to not take statements like this as deep wounds. My faith in my Gods and the Path that I walk is far more deeply rooted than it was back in the mid-1980s to early 1990s. I have no need to be the crusader, tilting at windmills made from religious Lego bricks. But there are still a few misconceptions that I readily stand against. I do not need to gather my battle armor, pull up my lance and find a goat to substitute as a valiant steed in another attack against a windmill. There is no need to be Quixotic over it all. Besides, I think the goat might have problems with my pudgy self on his poor back.

A Glamour Is Just That

One of the more common thoughts is that being a Pagan is a glamorous thing. You spend all your time communing with Gods and Goddesses that resemble Chris Hemsworth or Emily Blunt (Gods I wish!). There is a lot of the movies built into that kind of thinking. Trying to bring a face-to-face reality of the Gods and Goddesses is not as easy as that. These pop culture aspects can provide the vehicle for people to come into Paganism – come on, Gal Gadot could easily bring me into a desire for a stronger understanding of the Amazonian culture and concepts – but working with these same Gods is a little different than that. I will use a pair of personal examples, Crow and Coyote. Both tend to take a form much closer to the concepts of modern-day Cowboys with heavy tinges of Native American peoples for genetics. But this is my own mind’s eye placing a perspective and understanding that helps my own perception. For someone else, that imagery may be vastly different – maybe even more animal-like.

Dictionary.com defines much of this as a ‘glamour’ or by the definition: “magic or enchantment; spell; witchery.” I do not like the seemingly snarky element of ‘witchery’ in that definition, but there is a helpfulness to this. Much of the imagery comes from an imagery that helps place the God or Goddess into your mind’s eye, helping you to perceive what is necessary. So, essentially, your perception is what helps you to understand what is being conveyed to you by said God or Goddess. My personal perspective is that the same holds true within any other faith, including the Christian beliefs. After all, many people perceive Jesus ben Joseph as a white guy because it is imagery that helps them to process the message in their own minds. This does not necessarily make them racist; rather this provides a perception that allows them to process what they need to understand. The historical reality is probably a lot different. The problem does not come from their perception, but rather comes from the insistence that their perception (or someone else’s) is more appropriate for everyone – rather than accounting for the fact that our relationships with the Gods and Goddesses are unique between each one of us and Them.

A Relationship Is Not All Roses and Champagne

My relationship with Crow and Coyote is unique between myself and each of Them. One of the many misconceptions I hear from others is that Crow and Coyote would be sending me on “missions” for this and that. Certainly, I have been tasked with certain things to accomplish, and continue to have such put before me. However, I am not being tasked with tossing the Ring of Power into Mount Doom or trying to rescue someone from a peril greater than they know. There is a perception that working with the Gods is a lot like a modern Dungeons and Dragons game. Sort of like a Lara Croft moment, done in at the direction of an Otherworldly Being. Yeah, I certainly do not wish to have that in my life. I am all for adventure. I will get into that in a few moments.

Again, it is easier to explain if I provide a personal example or two. This blog is just such a product. When I pledged as a Priest (an unofficial title in terms of what a ‘Priest” is but an appropriate title for what I do in my daily life in service to Him) to Crow, one of the mandates provided to me was to get out and talk about my own Path. Thus, was born a focus for this blog. I never realized that communications were an important facet of Crow, but I have certainly been placed in such a position now. I have never been very certain about how much of what I write here is helpful to others, but still, I write. I have even contemplated the idea of a book, but that is still something I have trouble envisioning (more a hurdle that I must get over personally). And sometimes the messages do not come directly to me from Crow or Coyote, but other places. As I detailed in The Morrigan is Not a Valkyrie, these types of messages can be extremely confusing. And while I sought out assistance in interpreting what was coming to me, the solution to understanding came more from being a bit more direct within those moments of communication and being patient on my part. You are working into a relationship with your Gods and Goddesses…there are days when it is all hot romance and other days where you’re cleaning the dishes and vacuuming the living room carpet.

There Are Adventures

Pathway in Mesa Verde
Part of the trail along “Petroglyph Path” in Mesa Verde National Park

There are adventures too. One moment had me headed to Glacier National Park to spend a week there. My experiences with the Gods there was quite intense. Another moment had me walking along a narrow trail along a canyon in Mesa Verde on my own, something I DO NOT RECOMMEND you do. This was a moment of foolishness on my part and not thinking through what I might encounter along the way. The trail was full of loose gravel footing along the edge of a super steep cliff. One misstep on my part would have seen me catching wind beneath my wings – and it is a no-doubter that I would never have arrested my fall. Another side trip, which occurred on the return from Glacier National Park, found me at Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. A pure whim of a trip.

 

Each of those moments came to me in dreams. The Medicine Wheel side-trip came from a dream, where I was shown the location and told to be there. It was an incredible moment in time for me, which I can still transport myself to with a little grounding and focus. And it will be a trip I make again in the future…hopefully with more than just myself going. This next time, I plan on bringing some tobacco and water for offerings.

Yes, Paganism can be exciting when you first get on the Path. But like any new romance, it is exciting in the beginning. All the passion of what “clicks” with you shows you a world you never thought existed outside of your dreams. Then, as the excitement wears off, and a daily routine sets in, you can see an everyday life that looks like what you left behind in this new excitement. Daily offerings in your backyard, many of which are not immediately answered – if at all. The Gods may call you into some form of soldiering for Them in a Cause. Maybe not. Maybe They do not call you at all. You believe in Them, but They seem to be ignoring you. That happens too. Maybe, you do not believe in the Gods in the aspects of Polytheism. That is ok too. You do not need to be a Polytheist to be a Pagan. Being a Pagan comes from your heart, what you believe, and what makes you feel alive and connected in the world around you. And if you really want to get down to brass tacks…that is precisely what matters. You are the arbiter of what defines you…but as I noted early, this is where I come from.

Devotional Practice With Trickster Gods

What is it like to work with a Trickster God?

I hear this a lot when people find out that I work with Coyote AND Crow, a pair of well-known Tricksters. Having worked with both for quite some time – let me say, it has been an ‘adventure’ at times. However, like anything that you spend time and work on, there has been a measure of reward to it as well. Some of the work can (and has been) trying, somewhat difficult, and not easily understood at the time. Other times, working with these two has seemed akin to trying to get seriousness out of a slapstick comedy routine.

Starting Off

I never really thought that someone with my genetic background – primarily Germanic with some traces of other European ethnic areas – would ever find a kinship with a pair of Gods native to this continent. I had a strong affinity towards hunter Gods and Goddesses, and even thought that the Nordic realm would be more appropriate for me. Try as I might, I soon found that there was no answer to my calls.

cropped-img_28671.jpgNow, my problem here was that I was equating the Gods to a racial or genetic disposition. It made sense in my mind. Genetics were Germanic; so the Gods would naturally be attached to that match up, right? Well, not really. The Gods call, whom They call. Genetics, DNA, heritage, has very little to do with it. At Pantheacon this year, Silence Maestas noted in her concurrent session “Beginning Devotional Practice” that devotional practice with a deity is the formation of a relationship between you (the devotee) and Them. In a manner of speaking, in the beginning, it is a lot like dating. You learn about one another, your likes, your dislikes, everything is new and shiny. The engagement is simple and easy.

The same held true with Coyote, who was first. Coyote would ask for this, that, these other things – and I was eager to please. I wanted to work with Him. Every task and request had me looking like a complete fool in the end. Moreover, with each result making me feel more and more foolish, my frustration level grew and grew, until I could not take it anymore and refused to move another step forward. I asked why Coyote would want me as a devotee if I were made to look like an idiot at every turn. The response was simple and to the point: “I wanted you to have a spine and to be able to establish your own level of self-respect.”

Silence pointed out in that same concurrent session that once that beginning connection is established, there is no place for complacency. Much like relationships with a sexual partner, relationships with the Gods requires constant work. This is a relationship of choice. You choose the level of commitment you are going to provide in your work, just as the God or Goddess will provide the level of commitment that They want to have with you. Try not to be disappointed when Their level of commitment is not the same as yours. You have Free Will to choose how deep your connection with Them will be. They have that same choice in the reverse direction as well.

Going Deeper

Nearly everyone seems to be under the impression that working with Trickster Gods is like being a part of PT Barnum and Bailey’s circus 24x7x365. Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, Trickster Gods have their moments of subterfuge, as well as comedic moments, but there are times of seriousness as well. As I pointed out, part of working with Coyote – as well as Crow – has required me to learn to draw lines and create boundaries. I have also been taught to pay attention to fine detail as well. A single phrase or word can mean the difference between one level of understanding and another. Take for instance, the following story. I have seen this as a meme on Facebook as well, but it illustrates the point quite a bit.

A man is sent to the store by his partner. “Pick up a dozen eggs,” she says, “And if they have half-gallons of milk, get six.” When the man returns from the store, he has six dozen eggs. “Where is the milk?” exclaims his wife, “Why did you bring back six dozen eggs?” “Because they had half-gallons of milk!” he retorted.

Most folks have heard the statement that words matter. The exact usage of a particular phrasing within magick and spell work can be critical to the success of what you are trying to do. Just as the correctness of a phrase can mean the difference between six dozen cartons of eggs or a single dozen carton of eggs and six half-gallon containers of milk. Working with a pair of Trickster Gods has really brought this point home for me. However, there is also the aspect of learning when to question a request from the Gods and when to just shut up and do what is being asked. This is where the creation of personal, ethical boundaries becomes important. For me, this is where going deeper in my relationship with my two Tricksters has started.

Within most aspects of the Christian faith, I have listened to pastors, preachers, and priests state that unquestioning faith and obedience to God’s Will is mandatory. Who mandates that Will? God or these go-betweens? Individuals pray directly to God, and seem likely to get answers directly from God. What makes these intercessors a better conduit to God than yourself? If you are building a relationship with God, what is the use of these intercessors, except to water-down the direct relationship that you have? By the way, is a relationship a one-way avenue or a two-way street? All of these are questions I had to ask myself when working with Coyote and Crow. I had to evaluate every aspect of the relationships I hold with both of Them, to determine the “true” aspect of what was taking place. For me, going deeper has been about looking at the inter-connected aspect between myself and each of Them – and determining the value of what that was in relation for me.

But There Is No One There

Sure, working with Gods can be ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ – and I can see how someone can be keening for just such a thing in their life. After all, when you are single, and not dating – you can look at a couple and have so much desire to have a similar relationship in your life. All that holding hands, those simple little kisses that are so damn cute to watch, the implication of the hot, sweaty connection behind closed doors – yeah, there’s always the desire for that. However, there are other aspects that need to be taken into account. The constant time together, the bickering, the arguing, the constant balance of compromise versus personal need…there is a lot of hard work in all of that. All of which starts with that moment where things “click” – that attraction to one another. Sometimes, there is just not the interest that you want. What do you do next?

If I could relay the image of me shrugging in response, I would. Like any aspect of attraction in a relationship, sometimes the other party just is not that into you. Perhaps, the God or Goddess you are trying to attract just has not noticed. Keep trying. Remember, time can mean something different to the Gods than it does to us. What seems like an eternity of trying for us may just be scant moments to Them. I would propose that we cannot truly comprehend what time may mean for Them – our comprehension of the Gods can only go so far, in my opinion. Nevertheless, try more. Do devotional prayers to Them. Pour libations. Offer prayers. Offer your services, but only to a point that you are comfortable. Remember, draw your boundaries – even in the beginning – and hold fast to those. Moreover, do not be surprised if some other God or Goddess takes an interest in you instead.

For me, I have wanted to have a Goddess directly in my Life. Thus far, it has not happened. Fliodhais was a temporary flirtation. A few visits from Valkyrie had me thinking that the Morrighan had taken an interest in me. Moreover, there is a definite draw towards Brigid for me. Thus far, it has just been the Boys and me. To this point, that is enough. Though there is always the opportunity for more room. I am just not the kind of Pagan to rule that out. Because I always try to keep an open mind, which I find is a critical element to working with Trickster Gods.