Let’s End Rabbit Season on the Newbies

I truly dislike writing about topics like this. However, as often as it keeps cropping up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the last year, I realize that is a very timely discussion to have. So what is this all about? Well, it has to do with what I consider to be “bad leadership” within the Pagan community. The newest post concerning all of this came through my Twitter feed and pointed me back to Asa West’s blog post over on Witches & Pagans. In terms of length and discussion, Asa is concise and straight to her point concerning the power dynamics that play out publicly and privately, as well as providing some links to recent examples of this taking place within the Pagan community.

Gizmo
Gizmo hiding…sort of

Abusive individuals within the Pagan community is certainly nothing new. Back in 1986, when I started on my Pagan journey, I heard the stories about individuals in authoritative positions withholding promised magickal training for sexual favors. I have watched people that I had understood to be ethical and appropriate visages of leadership crumble into unethical and criminal activity when money entered the equation. There are others who have utilized their positions of community derived authority to enforce their way of approaching and communing with certain Gods and Goddesses as the “only way” to do so. And the stories and examples can literally go on and on and on and on…

I think that one of the issues here is the ease at which people hand the mantle of leadership and authority to others without blinking even once. I remember starting on this Path, how difficult it was to find any Pagans in the open after the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. I also remember how cautious the coven I eventually decided to work with handled me. They were in Plano, Texas. I was on the other side of the metroplex at Carswell Air Force Base in west Fort Worth. A trip to visit with them was a one hour trip in one direction for me, and that was when the traffic was favorable. Until I was trusted, everything was on a first name basis only. I was even told to not completely trust what I was being taught. “Trust your instincts when dealing with magic” I was told. That was a piece of advice I have maintained since that day, and even applied it to dealing with others.

Look, I have my bad days. There are times I let my emotions get the best of me in any conversation. I expect anyone else has the same issues in their own life. In one of the examples that are linked from Asa’s post is a moment where a person in a position of authority allegedly slapped someone who had deferred that aspect of authority to the individual. Publicly. Now, I do not know the details of the entire exchange nor do I really want to. However, I will supply this: unless an agreement has been made between myself and the other individual that such an exchange – publicly or privately – was agreed upon – that single moment would be the only time that person would have. The same would hold true with someone that would degrade me in a verbal or emotional exchange. For me, the moment that this happened would be the end of any agreement, magickal or otherwise, that we had. This is my methodology for handling situations like this.

But let’s be a little realistic for a few moments. Let’s affix our little fluffy bunny tails to the seat of our pants, and place our fluffy bunny ears on our heads – and take a short trip back to the beginning when we were full of saccharine, covered in glitter, and crapped magickal rainbows. A person that is currently on a Pagan path for the first time may have gone to some really drastic lengths to find that teacher. Unfortunately, they found an abuser. Would they not be willing to let a lot of things go by the wayside? After all, sex magick is just another part of magick, right? And if we don’t reach into our darker parts of who we are, we won’t be ready for some the less pleasant things, right? Yeah. Welcome to the manipulative mannerisms of the abuser. Yes, sex magick is a part of magickal workings. But it is not a moment of getting laid, and in my mind, it is not a road to go down with a novice. AT ALL. As for the darker side of magick, it certainly is there. But making you feel like you are ten inches tall through a barrage of verbal abuse… ::sigh:: And these are just two of the many, many manipulative things that abusers do within our Pagan community. And no, beyond this single sentence, I am not traveling down the pedophile trail – it is there, it does happen, and I will beat the ever-loving shit out of any abuser I find doing this.

All right. ::deep breath, Tommy::

My advice for anyone who finds themselves being abused like this…get out. However, you have to – short of taking someone’s life. Find help. Read up on the signs of abuse. Read up on what leadership SHOULD look like. Shauna Aura Knight has two excellent books on this topic:  Pagan Leadership Anthology, which contains several excellent essays from various folks on leadership. And her book The Leader Within: Articles on Community Building, Leadership & Personal Growth. Furthermore, if you have aspirations to be a leader within your community, know this stuff inside-out, be prepared to step between an abuser and the individual they are abusing. Remember, before you do something, know what you are getting into.

Me? Well, I am a solo Pagan, for a lot of reasons. One of these is so that I am not tempted to abuse whatever authority is handed to me by someone else. Seriously. I am always willing to show folks where my starting points in Paganism were, but I am also cautious to remind them that (a) that was back in 1986, a really long time ago, and (b) just because that worked for me, does not mean it will for them. That old starting point; however, might give them a hint where things might work for them as a starting point. I am no master theologian, top-notch Priest or craft Magician. And anyone suggesting just that about me will make me very, very nervous. Now, a Leader?? Maybe. I have been told that I have leadership qualities and traits in nearly every facet of my life. Usually, I lean to Edgar Friendly’s perspective from the movie Demolition Man: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to do. Sometimes, people come with me.”

Remember, trust your instincts. If it does not feel right, in all likelihood, it would be better to remove yourself from it. if a teacher or a leader asks you to do something you are uncomfortable with – you have every right to say no. You have every right to leave. If they threaten to withhold knowledge or teachings from you – leave. You can get that training or knowledge from somewhere else or someone else with a better set of ethics. There is not a single person on this planet that has sole custody of any truth, except where that applies to themselves alone. One of these days, I hope someone comes up with something similar to a Seeker’s Bill of Rights. Because our wider Pagan community could certainly put something like to good use, particularly for those fluffy bunnies just coming on to the scene. It certainly never should be Rabbit Season…

 

 

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Unpacking My “Hippie-ness”

I am not a fan of labels, particularly when applied to people as a “broad-brush”, “paint-by-numbers” descriptive. However, those same labels tend to help cut to the chase when trying to provide explanations for one’s own perspective – provided that everyone agrees on the wider definitions applied to those terms. When I get asked to describe myself to a group of strangers (or even people who only know me in one contextual aspect), I have a tendency to fall back to those labeling adjectives of “Pagan”, “Druid”, “Coder”, and “Hippie.” All, when utilized under the definitions I apply to those terms, are very accurate depictions of who I am. But not everyone uses the same definitions applied to the same symbolic terminology set. And therein lies the rub of it all.

27858032_10155057913836751_1589891266989413670_nPagans, Druids and Coders tend to provide some of the similar aspects of modernist symbology. Pagans are tree-hugging, over-reaching environmentalists trekking through suburban environments in their sandals screaming about saving the environment while waving their Starbucks coffee in their gesturing hand with their iPhone firmly grasped in the other. Druids are those guys that dress all in white, let their beards grow down to their nether regions, and meditate under the small sapling that the city planted on the urban street environment. Coders tend to sleep during the day, wear clothes that haven’t seen an iron since Romeo Muller won a Peabody award for “The Hobbit”, and walk around the hallways of their work environment in search of caffeine while muttering about WHILE loops and broken hierarchical tree structures. Am I right?? Accurate depictions?? Of course not, but all are somewhat accurate (if not comical) depictions of who I am to one degree or another.

Yet, it is the simple term “hippie” that gets most “mainstream” people (I tend to call them “squares”) bent out of shape, if you will. Thanks to some rather repugnant campaigns to malign and impugn the hippie counter-culture of the late 1960s, the usage of the term immediately shoots the image of the drug-addled, unkempt individual just sitting in the middle of wherever, focused on nothing at all. In fact, the hippie is generally viewed as an individual who has “turned-on and dropped-out” of regular society. The comedic overtones of this rather cartoon-ish image has been quite pervasive. Coupled with the accuracy of some aspects of this perspective, the wide brushed painting has completed the immediate coloring of an individual identifying with the hippie perspective as being just that – someone who is more in-tune with smoking weed, and not wanting the harshness of reality impinging on those emotions and feelings that are induced by whatever high is available.

However, while the drug culture is a big part of the conversation concerning the hippie, it is certainly not all of that conversation. In fact, it is small enough that the drug aspect is not even the truest aspect of what a hippie seeks within existence. That would really be the perspective of “freedom” which immediately begs the question – what does it mean to be free?

The answer to this, in my mind’s eye, depends on the person. However, I believe it can be boiled down to an essential element that a person is allowed to do as they see fit, within the bounds and limits of societal concepts, as well as limits placed on us by law. Now, the right-ness or wrong-ness of those laws can be debated to one degree or another, but that is a discussion for another blog post. But a hippie, from my own personal understanding, just merely wants the freedom to do as they see fit – and be left alone to do those actions. That doesn’t mean that every hippie is just waiting for people to leave them alone at their campfire in the woods, so that they can blaze up a fat one. Not every hippie wants or needs drugs. However, they should be free to do so, provided they do no harm to others when doing so. Essentially, a ‘live and let live’ theory to life, if you will.

In his book “Hippies and American Values”, Timothy Miller stated the hippie ethos, in terms of a religious movement, was meant to move beyond the limitations that were experienced within the mainstream religious institutions. In this, I would agree – this is what the reference towards being a hippie is about for me. Hippies, for the most part, were unafraid to try something new, to move outside the barriers created by monolithic institutions and binary thought. Miller also denoted that “…like many dissenting religions, the hippies were enormously hostile to the religious institutions of the dominant culture, and the tried to find new and adequate ways to do the tasks the dominant religions failed to perform.” That one quote really embodies what I believe is a dominant theme within the Pagan systems that have grown since those emotional moments in the late 1960s. There is no “war” to speak of, merely an abandonment of religious practices that no longer held any formative meaning for those wanting and needing more from their Spiritual lives and practices.

When I am asked how I feel that I am like the hippies of those difficult times of the 1960s, this is the area that I have staked out as my own reasoning. I was raised as a Protestant, sent to all-boys Catholic schools so that my experience of the Christian faith would be widened and deepened, as my father relayed to me about three years prior to his passing beyond the veil. My parents were not devout religionists of any flavor. We never attended church services. I was not encouraged to look beyond what was offered, because it was mainstream and acceptable – exactly what my parents wanted of my life. I wanted something different. I wanted freedom. I wanted something where I belonged. Where I felt like I was who I am. Where I could believe what I believed in my heart.

So I am a hippie. I am not ashamed of that label or title. But what it means to me, freedom, is far different than the ramshackle image of a cartoon-ish, drug-addled, munchie-driven Maynard G. Krebs that society has attached to the term. Rather than being driven away from the term….or cringe when squares flash a “v for victory” sign at me with their fingers and murmur the stereo-typical “peace, man” slogan…I am reminded of the meaning it holds for me – the Seeker. The individual driven by the need to find ways of connecting with the world around me in ways that have meaning and depth for who I am.

“Task Force” Has Such a “Gestapo” Feel To It

I normally pay very little attention to the news these days. My usual routine is to pick up the headlines from Google’s news feeds and pop over to the BBC website on a Saturday or Sunday for an hour or two. That usually is enough to sate my weak appetite for all things Trump, as well as catch up on whatever big might have happened outside of his orbit, elsewhere in the world. Back in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, I was a veritable news junkie. I had the local 24×7 news channel dialed in on my car radio. I listened to and from work, at work, and even at home. I rarely ever agreed with what Mark Davis, Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity were saying, but it was “interesting” to hear their perspectives. And then one day, my desire to listen to this type of stuff just seemingly turned off. Just like a water spigot.

Much of my distaste for what was happening in the news was the saturation of the 2000 election cycle between Bush and Gore. Adding further was the non-stop kvetching that took place after the election – by both Republicans and Democrats. Since that moment, the constant barrage has been non-stop. Our news cycle has morphed into a 365x24x7 concept, and the news is constantly about what one political side of the fence thinks about this issue or that. So, to keep my own personal brand of sanity, I took to limiting the amount of news that I take in. So far, its worked to one degree or another. I might be a touch behind one some pieces of the news cycle, but at least I am no longer stressing day and night over things.

This weekend is the last stretch of 4×10 work days – what is known as the “Summer Schedule” at work. During this period of work time, I have three days off in a row – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So, my usual methodology has been to continue picking up the news on Saturday or Sunday. Until this week. Since I had a handful of chores and spiritual obligations to handle on Saturday and Sunday, I decided to grab some of the news on Friday morning. I ran into two headlines that immediately grabbed my attention.

Jeff Sessions announces a religious liberty task force to combat “dangerous” secularism

New ‘Religious Liberty Task Force’ Highlights Sessions, DOJ Priorities

A “Religious Liberties Task Force” eh? That terminology has a draconian feel for me. Furthermore, taking into consideration that DJT had been consuming most of the headlines with his inane tweets and off-the-wall commentary on other aspects of the news, I quickly realized that the lead for this had been quite effectively buried. So off into reading and information gathering mode, I started to head.

All of this stems from a 2017 memo from Attorney general Jeff Sessions to the members of the Department of Justice, where he provided the broadest interpretation of “religious liberties” be applied in the application to federal laws. For instance, a pastor could not preach politics from the pulpit or canvas a congregation to provide funds to a political campaign. However, in applying the concept of legal protections under the guise of “religious liberties”, issues where this may have occurred, are given a wide berth by the DoJ, according to this particular memo. This new task force takes things a slight step further. I say “slight step” but its a rather large one.

The task force itself only has a written mandate to uphold the 2017 memo from AG Sessions. However, in a speech, AG Sessions took things a touch further, invoking an unspoken war between Christianity and “Secularism” that has overtones quite similar to the days of the Catholic church’s misguided time of the Inquisition.

“We have gotten to the point,” he said, “where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a ‘hate group’ on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

As is pointed out in the Vox article, AG Sessions is apparently targeting groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, perhaps even the American Civil Liberties Union, where far-right Christian groups have been branded with the descriptive of being a hate group. And I will add my own personal note here, rightfully so. Furthermore, I question the constitutionality of such a group, particularly when the individual in charge of it – AG Sessions – seemingly has such a narrow perspective of what the group is to enforce, namely the “correctness” of far-right Christianity. According to our founding fathers for this country, we are to establish no laws favoring one belief system over another. I would posit that this “task force” is just that, as well as a necessary step towards fascism within this country.

A step too far, perhaps? I would invite you to take a long hard look at the John Birch Society in American history, as well as our current modern dominionists that have managed to wiggle their way into positions of power and influence here in our government. The John Birch Society and the positions espoused by it are pillars of the modern-day dominionists. Their goal? Well, they do not hide it and are quite open about it. A Christian America, following their principles of Christianity. Their desire is to legislate their beliefs into law, subjecting all to their beliefs. After all, biblical principles state that the “good” Christian preaches the good word to all and converts the flock to what is right. They believe the world is dominated by a single concept of “war” that continues to this day: their Christianity versus the rest of the world. The rest of the world is effectively blinded by Satan, and in most cases is unknowingly participants in this battle.

I have seen this before in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Historically, we ‘affectionately’ call this the “Satanic Panic.” This movement spawned a ton of Christian books, many of which I have read (during this particular time frame as well). Christian comedian Mike Warnke made claims of being a High Priest of Satan before (and during the first years) of his service in the US Navy. In 1991, Christian magazine Cornerstone debunked his story. His original claim was that he had 15,000 members of his coven. in the years following the Cornerstone investigation and story, he claimed there were only thirteen members of his coven, and laid the majority of the blame of inaccuracies in the story at the feet of his ex-wife. Warnke continues regaling his tale of being a High Priest of Satan, but that’s a full conversation for another time.

We have been through these times before. Lies upon lies upon lies are constantly heaped upon the Pagan community – Nine Hells, ANY community that does not line up with these dominionists. Their followers eat all of this up because they are programmed to believe the worst in everyone else. Their perspective is to see all of us as wanting to destroy everything that they have. When in reality, we are really just trying to make it through each day with our humanity still intact.

A lot of those folks will toss out the notation that Pagans HATE who they are. That Pagans want to destroy them and wipe them from the face of the earth. From my own perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. I am quite sure that in the small town where I live, that there are more than a few of those dominionists. I am more than sure that there are quite a few within my work environment. I have no desire to destroy them or even discredit who they are. If that happens, they will have done it themselves. All I really want is to live my life in the way I wish to and be free to worship the Gods that I follow, and have the freedom to love the people that I love – and for others to have the same choice. That’s not secularism folks, that’s called choice. People like AG Sessions are out to fight a war with Gestapo-style tactics like this, not because others want to destroy what is their (AG Sessions and his ilk) choice. They are utilizing these tactics to scare people into making their (AG Sessions and his ilk) choice because folks are choosing something else instead. “Task Force”, indeed.

Thoughts on the ‘Quiet Times’

Earlier this year, I attended Pantheacon for my third year in a row. I will not make it back this next year, as I will be out of vacation time, and that is a real shame for me. I attend a lot of the presentations and always find thinking points, as well as writing prompts, from the folks who offer these little glimpses into their passions. There are certain folks that I will make the time to be at their presentations. Silence Maestas is one of those folks. Of all the Polytheists that I read and have had the pleasure of discussing things of any nature, Silence is one of the most approachable and passionate individuals I have ever had that pleasure with. When I saw the two sessions concerning Devotional Practice, I knew I had to be at both. While I had copious notes from the “Beginning Devotional Practice” session, it was the “Advancing Devotional Practice” that I did the majority of my participating in. My notes for that session came down to three total lines, all questions.

What happens when our relationship become stagnant?
And what about the “quiet times”?
How can you blog so much and have time for devotional practice?

All three are fairly tough questions to pose to yourself.  Honestly, the first two relate to an experience that nearly every Polytheist I have talked with has experienced. That “dry time” where it feels like the Gods have stepped away from you. The third, well, it is a bit judgmental in its very nature, hinting that if you have time for everything else – such as blog writing – that you are taking time away from your devotional practice. My experience has been that the third question, while difficult to really deal with, is not true. You can eat, breathe, play sports, work a mundane job, and have a hobby while still having a devotional practice. Devotional practice doesn’t mean you have to live like a sequestered monk, merely that your expression and devotion to your God(s) finds a place in your mind throughout all of your activities.

Now, there are those that will disagree with me, and that is perfectly fine. Let me say this up front – I know how to deal with devotional practice from my own point of view. Part of what I do and believe might make sense to you. Nin Hells, ALL of it might not make sense to you. Please do not think I am saying that anyone must do what I do. That would be a ludicrous assumption on my part. As I seem to be fond of saying here on the blog, as well as in real life, you do you. You know what works for you. And if something looks like it might work for you, give it a shot. If it does, assimilate it into your daily devotional practice. If it doesn’t – accept the experience, discard the practice, and move forward with what does work. How I handle my daily devotional practice is not the be-all, end-all for anyone – including me.

Stagnation. This happens in any relationship you have, and a devotional practice is a relationship, in my view. Stuff gets old and wrinkled. There is no “zing” to it. Where you received answers from the Gods so easily, there is nothing or maybe just a bare trickle. Many folks call this the “quiet times” in their devotional practice. I live on the very southern edge of the central plains of the United States. In fact, if you look at the history of agricultural practice in the United States, I am on the southern edge of where the Dust Bowl is located. The hot winds of the prairie blow here along the Red River at the Texas/Oklahoma border every summer – and this summer is no different. The same, hot breeze – day in, day out. The monotony does get old after a while. There is not a lot of joy that can be found in the same thing over and over and over. I can definitely grok the concept of the quiet times in a theme like that. Any incoming storm clouds can provide a relief and a welcome change to the overall tedium. But that’s the weather, what about a spiritual practice?

Yeah, I get it. The same practices accomplished in the same manner over and over and over at the same time, in the same way, with the same words…blergh. Sometimes, that tedium can get to you, but is this because you are bored or because the Gods just don’t seem to be there? If the Gods don’t seem to be there, change things up. Keep the fundamentals of your devotional rites, but add something different. Change something up. Alter the wording or phrasing. Change the time you do things. Improvise some of your devotional aspects. Put some theatrics into things. Sing your rite instead of reciting it. Add an offering. Change what is offered. But be sure to keep the fundamental framework. Improvisation is great stuff, but the basic framework still needs to be honored to some degree. After all, you have to have some anchor that keeps things together. Otherwise, you may as well change everything, and that is a lot like starting completely over. That can have its advantages as well, but remember you’re trying to add some spice to what you are doing, not go total anarchy on your practice.

Sometimes, the quiet times are a blessing in disguise. These moments where life is not a rolling sea of issues can provide you the opportunity to get a stronger anchor in what you are doing. Plus, I will be honest, I would prefer things to be somewhat quiet. I do not really have a need or desire for my Spirituality to be an adventure where I must be the hero to every moment. My preference is for my Spirituality to be about building a better, more balanced me. When things are slower, I can work on deepening my own, individual approach to my two Gods. I can find ways to deepen my perspective on the world around me without getting completely caught up in the crisis of the moment. That deepening of my perspective will be useful for when the crisis of the moment does manage to engulf me. I can find my balance far better, and be the helpful, solid point of perspective for others when they have need of me.

My Stone Circle (28Feb2015)
My Stone Circle (28Feb2015)

My spirituality is one of focus, balance, and perspective. The truly difficult times for me are not the quiet times, but rather the times where the noise of the world and its issues drown out my understanding of where I am in the world. Those moments of noise and chaos are the troubled moments for me, where I have to reach out and find my balance. But I understand the concept of the “quiet times” where the connectivity to one’s Gods in a devotional practice seems to miss the mark rather than making the connection. Everyone reaches these times in their practice. Mix things up when you reach these moments. Experiment a little. Try something offbeat. Alter your perception. But keep the basic framework there as the anchor, so that you have a familiar point to come back to. Above all, don’t panic. Remember, this is your Spirituality you are dealing with. Keep your faith. You are on a quest to better who you are and connect more deeply with your Gods, not find a volcano to throw a ring into.

Consider this, sometimes the quiet times, where the Gods seem to walk away, are there to provide the opportunity for you to grow your faith in Them. The Gods don’t always answer us. They have Their own things to handle and manage. And sometimes, Their silence may be provided to give us the chance to find the answers for ourselves. Surely, the Gods would prefer us to be able to work out many of our issues on our own, using our wits and intelligence (along with our sense of humor and sarcasm). Otherwise, we become nothing more to Them than a herd of sheep that need to be constantly looked after. I, for one, believe that the Gods would not want this from us. And I will be happy to utilize these “quiet” moments to work on myself or whatever issue might be at hand.

Mind Your Head, Mind Your Step

A few years ago, I took a trip to the United Kingdom with the college where I work. For many of the folks on the trip it was a new experience. For me, it was a trip back to England. Moreover, it was quite the experience for me. One I will not forget anytime soon. When we were down in the tube – the subway, in American vernacular – I remember seeing the signs all around – ‘mind the gap” – which referred to the area between the subway train and the platform. This notorious little no-man’s gap was where many an unwary traveler’s leg would wind up causing a great deal of embarrassment and potential pain. As I watch the gyrations of Americans over the current political state caused by the current resident of the White House, I continually see similar signs in my own mind’s eye stating, “Mind your head” and “mind your step.”

gapThe signs that I see in my own mind’s eye are essentially visual reminders and cues to not be too caught up in the whirlwind that has become America’s favorite past time: restlessness, hand-wringing, consternation, and general panic over politics. Yeah, forget baseball and football, America’s past time is being glued to their TV sets for the daily broadcasts of the news on their preferred spin-cycle. Staying glued to those news spinmeisters is precisely what the current President wants. Your attention, complete and undivided. Even if you are completely outraged and angry – your focus is still him, what he says, what he does, what he does not say, and what he does not do. I will hand it to him; he certainly knows how to command a publicity campaign. However, I believe it is time to mind one’s head.

Peter Coyote wrote in his book ‘Sleeping Where I Fall’ – “High ideals and visionary brilliance [are] no substitute for daily practice grounded in spiritual insight.” Spending all of our time worshiping at the television, grinding our teeth and wringing our hands over what one single man thinks pays homage to what he desires the most – attention. Positive, negative, indifferent – that matters not to him, so long as you are talking about him, his words, or his deeds. I cannot speak for you, what you do or what you manage or handle within your life, but I just do not have the energy capital to spend on this person in that manner. I have many other things that need to be handled and dealt with on a daily basis. Moreover, to be frankly open and honest, I have wasted far too much of my time on things that do not provide a return of any sort. In minding my head, I need to bring my focus back to my own daily Spirituality, to the areas where I should be focusing, and not on something that lauds and flatters some individual’s narcissistic needs.

Granted, there are things that this guy does that need to have an eye kept on, an understanding of what is being done, which provides a watchful gaze on what may cross into the our own lives or the lives of the ones we love. We do need to be ready to mind the gap, and stand in the way of potential tyranny. However, we also need to make sure we do the daily things that work in our own spirituality, the things that keep us moving forward in our own lives and our own devotional practices. In this manner, we need to insure that we are minding our own heads, finding that balance between watchfulness of things that do nothing directly for others or us and those things that we need to do in our daily Spiritual practices.

For me, part of my daily routines were to go outside and recite my daily prayers as the night skies started to darken the world around me. Rain or shine, hot or cold; I made my way outside. Then one night, I did not. I remember the night quite well. It was the night of the so-called St. Louis riots. People were taking to the streets to protests the police shooting of a young black man. I stayed indoors, riveted to the television. When I finally looked up, it was 11pm and time for me to go to bed. I never made it outside. The next night, I was again riveted to the television of news coverage. And then over the next few months, I made fewer and fewer trips out to the stone circle during the evening. I knew it was not a bad thing to miss a few days here and there. Nevertheless, part of handling a daily practice is continuing the same routine as best as one can. Moreover, getting back into the same practice is becoming more and more difficult. Yes, it seems like a small thing – and it likely is. However, it is a part of my daily devotional process with Crow and Coyote, and I let too many other things get in the way.

Recently, I have been reorganizing my own life. Somethings that I gave priority and privilege to within my life needed to be set back in their proper places. It had turned into a one-way street. I poured all the energy and effort into these things, and received nothing or extremely little in return. The only people benefiting from all of this were those who showed no appreciation for what I was trying to do. Thus, the change was necessary. I started examining many parts of who I am and where I am at and came to the realization that those things that I did get benefit and return from were the very things that I had set off to the side as items that I could do later. I certainly needed to take some time and mind my head.

watchforsnakesI use politics, the issues with Donald Trump and the issues I have with the media as a whole as examples because everyone can readily understand all of this. All of these have some reach into our lives and the lives of those we love, as well as strangers we have never met. Yet, when we pour our energy into being outraged, being angry, being depressed…we get nothing from all of that, except the warm glow of those feelings. Those that protest, write letters, make phone calls, and even confront governmental representatives over these issues can wind up feeling empty when the day is done. In addition, when you expend all the hours of your day, and ignore the aspects of your daily Spiritual life, your daily devotions and other aspects – you can feel your life spinning out of control. I know I have. I did. I continue to feel that.

Minding your step is about coming back to those things that helped uplift you. Your daily devotionals to the Gods. Minding where and how you spend your energy and time. Because if we do that, we can find that, we can do more than one thing. We can be outraged without worshiping at the television for hours on end. We can also do our daily devotionals. We can add aspects of our outrage into our devotionals, asking the Gods for advice, assistance and even inspiration. We do not have to choose how we resist over how we manage our Spiritual lives. However, in trying to combine the two, we once again have to mind our heads, to make sure that we find a balance between mindfulness and outrage, so one does not overwhelm and drown out the other.

Mind your head? Certainly. Keep an eye on your own thoughts; your own emotional state. Learn when to back off. Explore where your limits are. Push those boundaries when you can. Moreover, realize that those limits and boundaries can change daily, hourly. What you are capable of today may be more or less tomorrow. That quantity is malleable. What it is or is not is completely up to you. You know you.
–T /|\

 

Trying to Reason the Why of It All

Why is that some people attract all the drama into their lives? All the bad stuff happens to them? They just cannot seem to get a break? Why?

Yep, I got asked this on Facebook. And my answer is that I have no damn clue. If I did, I would understand why I had to put my middle-cat Gizmo to sleep, less than two weeks ago. And before the weekend was done after that nice Thursday moment, my youngest cat, MY cat Kaylee was being diagnosed with bone cancer. Just five days after having Gizmo put to sleep. In-between all of that, I got written up at work for asking questions “with attitude” through a series of text messages. Why did all of that happen to me in my life? I have no damn idea, and if I did – I would bottle it and sell it to cover my house payments.

I honestly have no idea why stuff happens. I hear the obligatory stuff

God is testing you.
The Gods are angry with you.
You did something that the Gods did not want you to do, so now you’re being punished.

Huh. You really think so? Because I don’t. Things happen. Sometimes, you make a decision between choices a through z and you just pick the one that brings you to where stuff happens in a way that is devastating. Destiny? Sure, if you want to move within life that way. I grok that, but I don’t believe it. I live life in the vein of a programming flowchart – you reach a decision point on the tree, and you make one choice or the other based on the logic and information you have. Sometimes, it can be a bad choice. Sometimes, it is a good one. More often than not, it is kinda meh. And eventually, you come to another decision that has to be made. You can make hundreds of thousands of decisions in a twenty-four hour period. Sometimes you can only make three. Or some other arbitrary number.

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My baby girl Gizmo. I still miss her so much and always will.

I would love to lay all my ills and bad choices at the feet of the Gods and tell Them: “Your fscking fault! Fix it!” Except that I know there were choices in there that I made. Some innocent, some not so much. But those were my decisions, not the Gods’. Did my decisions cause Gizmo to have a cancerous tumor in her throat? Maybe. But I can never be sure one way or another. I do know that I had the choice of picking her over five other kittens when she first came into my life. And even with the crappy ending to her life, we still had nearly fourteen fantastic years together. We loved each other, had family adventures together and were there for one another in ways I could never really articulate in written or spoken words. I can grab hold of the good and keep those memories sacred in my memory or I can wail to the Gods about how unfair it was for Them to pull her out of my life this way. I would rather keep those happy, most sacred memories than spend my time slamming my fists on the wall recalling all the pain I watched her go through in that last week.

Some folks do have a run of bad luck or make a series of bad choices for whatever reason. At times, they might even feel like they were related to Schleprock. I have seriously been there. And it was really easy to fall into the “woe is me” mentality. That is really understandable. The key for me was reminding myself that life was still worth moving forward through, on my own momentum instead of the current dragging me along. But that’s me. Other folks react differently. For me to say that they are doing it wrong would not only be cruel and heartless – but ignores the fact that every person is their own individual. The way that they react to situations is, can and will likely be different than my own. I will not negate those experiences, feelings, and emotions that they are going through. That shit is real.

I really wish I had a better answer than all of this, but I really don’t. I do have things that have helped me get through painful times – including what I am going through now with Gizmo’s passing and Kaylee’s troubles.

Prayer. Believe it or not, as a Polytheist, as a Pagan, prayer is a strong tool. I prayed to Brigid for healing for both Gizmo and Kaylee. I sought Her assistance as a healer and said chants over both of my girls while I was at the vet with them. The prayers helped me to focus on being strong, loving and in that moment for both of my girls. Brigid is not a typical Goddess for me to work with (in fact there are no typical Goddesses that I work with, I have yet to form a strong relationship with any single Goddess), but I knew of Her healing aspects and asked Her for help.

Finding things to do to keep my mind off of troubling issues. I do data retrieval coding for a living. Some of it gets really complex and requires me to turn off most everything else in my brain to concentrate on what I am doing. I have purposefully worked late a few times, just to keep my mind occupied. Usually, when politics get a little too front and center for me, I tend to dive into code in order to turn that stuff off for me. Working and solving these kinds of coding problems is a form of therapy for me. Some folks I know get out their knitting. Others get crayons and coloring books. Anything to distract the mind from the issues directly at hand, particularly when things are beyond your control and you feel helpless to do anything.

Walk. One of the most relaxing things for me to do is to go walking or hiking. Particularly where there are a lot of trees. Just putting one foot in front of the other, and listening to the wind in the trees is the most calming, relaxing thing I can do for myself. Plus, there is also the aspect of getting some physical exercise. And my Fitbit thanks me for the extra steps too. 🙂

I cannot tell you what is the right way for you to deal with stuff. I can make suggestions, but the real solution-maker is going to be you. As for what to do when bad stuff continually happens, the only advice I can really give you is to just slow things down. Make your decisions carefully – that includes whether to eat at Taco Bell or McDonald’s. Don’t beat yourself up when a decision brings you to bad stuff. Sometimes, it is inevitable. If yelling and screaming at the Gods and laying the blame at Their feet works for – go for it. That is not my style of preference, but I can only answer for me. Simple as that.

Do Not Feed the Troll

As I continue to pull back from a lot of online areas – mostly due to the constant barrage of “what Donnie does, what Donnie says” – I have noticed that internet trolling is becoming more and more common. As well as open criticism without regard for what is being read. We’re a good worldwide society at complaining, sniping, and criticising other perspectives. The internet provides a lot of cover for those that decide to hide behind a pseudonym or fake profile to achieve their means.

I’ll admit, getting the zinger in does feel good. I do it all the time with the President’s Twitter account. Well, not ALL the time. I do have a life. But I do toss in a zinger from time to time.

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I would love to think that the President of the United States actually reads my trolling efforts, but I sincerely doubt it. Besides, I am not trying to provoke a response from him. Since this is a communications medium tied to a Presidential administration, that means that when he finally does leave the White House these will be part of his Presidential archive (by law). I just wanted to be sure my voice was added to that for future reference. 🙂

But let’s come back to the area I am wanting to work with here – how we communicate. Or rather, how we choose to communicate within an open, online “forum”. I am sure you have seen the “battles” that take place on Facebook, and I am sure there are a lot of you out there who, like me, are tired of watching the energy that gets expended in these exchanges. These exchanges that solve nothing, and change no one’s already well-set perspective.

For some, these exchanges are what they get off on. They enjoy spreading the anger by cajoling others into an interaction. When one responds in an angry fashion about what a waste of human excrement that this “troll” is, the “troll” gets fed precisely what was desired – your emotional response. The result is that the “troll” will fire off another retort or statement that is even more incendiary than the first, expecting an even greater expenditure of emotion from you. And when you respond, in that same fashion again – the cycle begins with even more bombastic rhetoric. I have seen this cycle. Nine Hells, I have even participated in it – from both sides. But long before the internet.

Back in the late 1980s to sometime in the late 1990s, I participated in Bulletin Board Systems, more commonly referred to as “BBSs”. I had my local favorites here in the DFW area. “Pandora’s Box” was an adult-oriented system. Renaissance BBS was when dedicated to discussions of all sorts, and one of the places I “published” my poetry on. Dark Side of the Moon was themed after the Pink Floyd album of the same name but was geared towards philosophical discussions. Malkuth BBS was a Pagan-oriented BBS where the ability to participate was by invitation only. And then there was The Church Mouse. Run by a devout Christian, it was here that I played the role of the troll. I jabbed and punched at various Christians in rolling debates, along with an Atheist and a Chassidic Jew. Some of the discussion was actually serious, but most of the time, I played the role of hit-and-run troll. Looking back, I realize that my interactions were childish, at the very best. All I was trying to do was make someone angry. And when that individual did respond in anger, I felt I had won the battle.

“Won the battle.” What in the Nine Hells did I win? A short emotional response that made me feel more superior to someone else. Last night, in a discussion with a much younger individual (early twenties), he made the remark that he had won plenty of “battles” with folks in a discussion. I asked what he had won. He told me that these folks did not like him, as if this was a trophy to hold. I told him that for me to participate in such antics – there had to be a prize, like money or an actual trophy. of course, I was being sarcastic, but I doubt my point had any application for him. I remember feeling invincible at that age too.

But I actually did win something during all those trolling moments. Like my young friend, I earned the disdain of quite a few people. Furthermore, I assisted those individuals into thinking that every Pagan that they would meet was an angry, combative individual. That all a Pagan could accomplish in a conversation is an angry derisive commentary against their beliefs. Or maybe they merely came away from those thinking that directly of me, and not broad-brushing against all of those who were also Pagans. I certainly hope it was the latter.

All of which leads me back to my semi-constant barrage against the President’s Twitter account. The above tweet that I sent is one of my “cleaner” tweets. I have sent some really nasty tweets to Donald Trump. I’ll admit, it is not one of my more adult things to have done. But sometimes, you have to fire back at someone who is using power provided to him under a social contract such as the Constitution of the United States to harm other people. I cannot drive up to the White House, knock on the front door, and slap the wig off his head while admonishing him for all the hurtful policies he has implemented as “Executive Orders.”

What I can do; however, is to vote in every election. For politicians who will vow to be more socially conscious with what they should be doing. Regardless of the level of the position that they are seeking or even the political party that they are part of. So long as they follow the social contract that is what government is. I can publish blog posts like this, asking others to follow that lead. Ask. Because I do not command you. “I am no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes people come along.” Yes, I am quoting Dennis Leary’s character from the movie “Demolition Man” because it is a direct understanding of what I am and who I lead. I only have one follower – me. Anyone else who chooses to follow my example does so because they decided for themselves to do so.

As one of my fellow Pagan bloggers said quite a while back (I am not sure who or when – just that I read it on a Pagan blogger’s site) “words do matter.” I would also add that what we decide to accomplish with those same words matters as well. Internet trolls only stick around, so long as you feed them. React to them, you provide what they want. They will attack with even more force, more names, more derision…because they want another reaction from you. The idea is to force you off your center and balance so that you flail back constantly. You are not harming their assumed personae. You are just wildly lashing out. And for them, that is laughable. Try not to feed the trolls. It really is not worth your time or effort. Take it from someone who was a troll before there were internet bridges to sit under.

do_not_feed_the_troll_by_veilx-d38viyi