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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Relationships with the Gods are Unique…and Complicated

I attended Many Gods West 2017 a very short while back. Most of that came from pushing by Crow, as well as my own desire to try a Pagan-oriented conference that was geared around a specific area of topical interest, rather than the massive general interest that a much larger conference such as Pantheacon generates. I came away from MGW with nearly two dozen writing prompts, much of which came as questions that came to mind during various presentations.

For me, each one of the prompts that I gathered are direct confrontations to how I am practicing my own polytheism with my triad of Deities:  Coyote, Crow and Flidais. Each of these Three present differing approaches to daily Life for me, and at the same time – together They are a part of my connection to all that is around me. My relationship with each of Them is unique, and singular. I say prayers to Them, as well as other Gods and Goddesses that I have no specific ties to, seeking guidance in what is becoming a more troubled and difficult world.

In what turned out to be a more physical presentation than I thought, “Embodied Practice and Devotion” had all of us in guided focus over feeling aspects of our own physical bodies. Controlled breathing, singular awareness of parts of the body, general awareness concerning various specified inputs and perspectives – none of which was terribly new to me. However, toward the end of the presentation, discussion was opened to the participants and part of that turned towards the idea of devotional surrender, a concept I have never really entertained prior to that moment.

From my notebook:

  • Devotional surrender versus Personal Sovereignty

    • Should we surrender completely to our Gods?

    • Should we bargain limitations with our Gods?

      • Does this limit who They are in our lives?

      • By not pushing our boundaries, are we limiting who we are as individuals?

A lot of this was difficult to work directly with at that particular moment. However, now back at home – in territory that is far more familiar to me, where I can let down my emotional shields that I carry publicly as an introvert – I am now starting with this particular writing point to start looking at my direct relationship with my little Triad.

So, probably the best place to start is to try and define these concepts, starting with devotional surrender and personal sovereignty. To be particular honest, I am not at all interested in the common definitions of the two terms, but rather in how these definitions work out for me. This means that you – the person who has decided to click on this blog post and read it – may define these terms radically different than I do. Frankly, that’s great. What it means is that you will probably come to far different conclusions than I do. And that’s great too. I am not looking for a fight or argument over the difference in our definitions or in our approaches. I don’t mind a discussion over all of that, because it helps me to see some of the cloudier areas in all of this. But I am not interested in a “my way or the highway” approach to discussing differences either. And with that out of the way, let’s dive into how I approach these two points.

The easier of the two, for me, is personal sovereignty. What this boils down to is that I am in control of things where I am concerned. My approaches to the Gods are mine. What Crow, Coyote or Flidais may ask of me, I have the ability to say “no” or “that’s a line too far for me.” The same goes for anything that is asked of me or told to me by any individual. I am in control of me – to the best of my ability. Yeah, its a simplistic definition, but it works for me in terms of this blog post.

Devotional surrender, on the other hand, is a bit more problematic for me. Mostly because I have never entertained this concept before. As I understood the concept from the panel, this can go from terms of following the commands and wishes of one’s Gods without question and follow all the way through something akin to being possessed physically by one’s Gods. For me, that’s an exceptionally wide area, but all of that does seem to fit into the entire concept. Plus, as I ponder over this, I feel that I may already work within some aspects of this already.

During a different panel, I related my bond to Crow. I am a Priest of Crow. Crow has already provided various tasks for me. But as I noted during the panel, I am free to question, and I am free to say “no”. If I am drawing the limitations on what is asked of me by Crow, am I limiting my relationship with Him? I do believe John Beckett once noted in a blog post of his own, that while we can say “no” to the Gods – that may be a moment where They choose to take far less interest in us as individuals. Certainly a risk that comes with that.

Prior to Crow, I worked exclusively with Coyote. Coyote was fond of giving my tasks to complete where I wound up looking like a fool when I finished each one. I knew I was working with a Trickster, so I tried to be patient through it all. After about nineteen or twenty of these tasks designed to make me look foolish, I went into a meditation looking for a confrontation. Frankly, I was pissed off at being made a fool. During my interaction, I asked why I was being made a fool. “You make yourself the fool,” was the response. If I am being made the fool, then why in the Nine Hells would you want to work with me? After the laughter subsided, Coyote noted that I was the fool for not asking questions. “I actually wanted to see if you possessed a spine” was the final response.

With Crow, I utilized some of this in my interactions with Him. Like Coyote, questioning was implied, but on a far shorter leash. I have had a few interactions where I have made the statement that I will have to think about whether I would do as asked. “Let me think about that” usually receives a terse reply of “do not take too long.” So, I do bargain with Crow. And sometimes I do try to bargain a limitation. But I have never entertained the idea that I might be limiting my relationship with Crow by doing so. Perhaps, by setting my own boundaries of what I can or am willing to do, I am changing the relationship that I have with Crow. But perhaps not too much.

I do see the Gods as beings that are far beyond my own personal comprehension. But I also see my relationship with the Gods to be somewhat similar to relationships that I have with other human beings. There are people that I would literally do anything for. Some of them know this, some of them don’t. There are others where I am willing to things for, but only up to a certain point. My relationship with them is not nearly as strong. My relationship with Crow is stronger than the one I have with Coyote. There are far more things I would do in service to Crow than I would in service to Coyote. That’s because the relationships are different. And my relationship with Flidais is far weaker than with the other Two. Our relationship is just barely over two years in age. In many ways, we are start in the flirtation stage.

I do not think that I have really changed too much of my opinion on whether boundaries, limitations or bargaining lessen a relationship with my Gods. Perhaps, if I had a more demanding God or Goddess, it would be a bit of a hinderance or even a point where my relationship with one of Them may cease. As for devotional surrender, I believe it really depends on which end of that spectrum may be in play, as to whether I would agree that it was a good idea or not. Allowing personal possession has an uncomfortable feeling to it, and crosses a lot of line with me in my own concept of personal sovereignty. Regardless, I still believe that my relationship with the Gods and Goddesses, particularly my Three, is a unique to me – and there may come a time when I will have to explore this aspect of devotional surrender to an ultimate extreme at some other time. Because relationships are unique…and complicated.

Dragging My Own Sovereignty Out of the Shadows

Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you. — Tyrion Lannister

Its a quote from the first season of the HBO TV series, Game of Thrones. The “imp” gives this piece of advice to Jon Snow, while sitting around a campfire – both on the way to The Wall. Jon is off to take the black and become a member of the Night’s Watch. Tyrion, is merely an interested tourist – coming for a visit.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the first season, because Tyrion shows a concern for the visible underdog. He points out that one’s perceived weaknesses can become a point of strength – provided you accept that weakness for what it is: a part of you. In a manner of speaking, its a process of claiming all that is yourself, and not allowing it to be turned on you. And its a part of taking control of your own personal narrative or personal sovereignty, if you will.

“Self-ownership (or 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 her or his own body and life.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-ownership)

Shortly after I left the United States Air Force, I started to hide the fact that I was a Pagan. I never carried books with me to read at lunch-break at work. I never talked about my beliefs with anyone. In short, I started leading a double-life. In “polite” company, I was the everyday human being, never declaring openly for one side or the other. In more “profane” company, I embraced the fact that I am Pagan, but I toned the idea of what I did for a profession. I was openly denying one part of myself, depending on where I was and who I was around. In essence, people got half of me and never knew the other part of who I was.

As James Young wrote in the song “Double Life” by Styx:  “Nowhere to hide, though we both might try; I’m schizophrenic, and so am I,” this was precisely where I set myself. I let the fear of others judging me dictate how I presented myself to the world around. And that double life was a fearsome balancing act. Why would I choose to stay and work during the Christmas holiday, but want the period around Halloween off? “I just like to party on Halloween” was the milquetoast answer I would sheepishly pawn off.

Then the so-called “Witch Wars” happened in my local area, and I set myself off and away from the Pagan community. I did my rituals and celebrations alone. I also switched jobs, and decided to grab a hold of my own narrative. People would ask me what my beliefs were. I would respond that I was a “Pagan”. When I got further inquiries, I would state that I wasn’t a Christian, and leave the issue at that. I was tired of hiding who I am from one half of the world. I was tired of living in two different existences.

Taking control of my personal narrative was liberating for me. I no longer had to hide who I am or what I believe. But I was, and still am, very quiet about who I am. I didn’t get the “I am a Pagan” tattoo on my forehead. When I get asked about my job, I tell people I do statistics for a college. I no longer hide who I am or what I do for a living. I’m a Pagan. I’m A Druid. I’m a Polytheist. I work for a small college in North Texas. I do statistics and compile national survey responses. I am an Institutional Researcher. All of that – and a lot more – is who and what I am.

Believe me, I understand living in the shadows. I completely grok the reasons that people must do so. I’m lucky enough to be able to step out into the sunlight. But even if I wasn’t able to do so, and had to still live a life that was somewhat in the lengthening shadows – none of that changes any of my personal narrative. It only changes the audience that I let into the bleachers.