Ten Books I Keep Within Reach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

There Are No Piggy-back Rides….

As I sit here and type this, its Christmas Day here in the States. Roughly about 0945 in the morning, and the outside temperature reads as 68F. Hardly the stuff of winter. At this moment, I am two days away from boarding a plane for Toronto, and then eventually a flight to Dublin, Ireland. Thus, my desk is currently an aftermath of an electronics tornado, as I get devices packed and together for the coming trip. I hate flying, so I am obliged to bring devices of distraction. I have my iPhone packed to the gills with audio lectures and music. My iPad has a massive number of electronic books available for my perusal, including copies of the fantastic magazine Pagan Dawn, which I have an electronic subscription for. And yet, I am still bringing three physical books with me. Why? Because the titles and information draw me towards them at this time.

Making the trip with me will be “The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology” by Jordan Paper. A book that has the look and feel of academia, which I do not mind reading from time to time. Another book that is making the trip will be “Soul Hunters: Hunting, Animism, and Personhood Among the Siberian Yukaghirs”. I picked this book up on a whim, because it handles the concepts of shamanism, and animism from the perspective of a native tribe of Siberia. Not being familiar with the tribe, nor the aspects of shamanism or animism from a Siberian perspective just lends to the potential mystery of what I am about to read. Yes, another academic work. And while these two works are certainly interesting and exciting food for thought; the current book I am reading is already finding interesting moments and quotes for me to ponder.

“Spirits of the Sacred Grove: The World of a Druid Priestess” by Emma Restall Orr is a Moon Books Classics printing that I picked up, in no small part, because of what I have read from Orr previously. I am not even out of the forewords and preface, and already I am finding things that showcase doors where I never thought them to be.

From her “Foreword to the New Edition”….

For if it can be defined at all, Druidry is surely about immediacy: the ability to adapt and honourably respond to each changing moment within nature as it rises before us on the paths of our lives. That is what nature teaches us, and being awake and willing to be taught by nature is the essential practice of this British tradition.

And from the “Note” section immediately after….

Before we know anything at all, we are free. When we have begun to discover, we each carry way with us for some time the burden of thinking we know everything. True magic is about empowerment. Empowerment is about personal creativity, not control. Competition is the game of the ego. A good teacher will never appear superior. It isn’t a race for enlightenment; it is a journey towards balance and perfect peace. There is no Holy Grail which holds all the answers. There is only our own freedom of spirit.

For me, it has only taken the space of five pages for me to find small sections that already speak to who I am as a Druid. Nearly every work I have read from Orr has served as a basis of where I can step outwards, creating my own walk through the forest that may or may not utilize the already worn trail that many others have walked.

It is interesting that this shows up at this particular point in where I am in Life. I am reminded, yet again, that this Path was set before me feet for a reason. My previous six years of stumbling around have come from not shedding the concepts of rigid dogma that are encrusted upon me through my early years of life. I kept the ship clean above decks and down below, but I never bothered to check the hull for barnacles. Once I made that check, and removed my crustacean passengers, much of what did not make sense – clicked into place. In short, while I had found re-birth on this Path, unconsciously I had been clinging to pieces of a past life that was no longer relevant. Grow, change. Unlearn, learn. Take the steps that you need; not the steps that someone else made long ago.

Am I the same Bardic initiate I was six years ago when I started down this path with OBOD? Certainly not. I’m not even the same Bardic initiate I was two years ago, when I re-affirmed those steps at the first Gulf Coast Gathering. Growth, learning, walking the steps as I feel the need to do so. Observing. Watching. Still learning. Always learning. The titles accumulated along the way, the certificates stating that a level of training has been completed – all nice accolades. But only a small aspect of the memory of the learning that took place throughout the journey. Much like a photo captures a moment in time, a focal aspect of beauty — it never replaces the entirety of the experience. Only that singular moment.

I am excited to read through this book, and wide-eyed in wonder what I will discover within its pages. I am both ecstatic and absolutely frightened on what doors will be revealed to me; what connections I will discover that have been dormant and/or hidden from me. For me, there is one final point that has been made over the last six-plus years of study:  there is no such thing as 101, 201, beginner, or expert studies. There is just studies. Everyone starts off on the same blocks at one point or another. How we each walk the maze is up to us individually. Whether alone or in a group – it still requires each individual to walk their Path. There are no piggy-back rides…..


 

I will likely not be posting blog posts while I am gone. I have no material queued up for anything like that. Most of my writing is extemporaneous here on the blog. In two days, I climb aboard a plane to fly into Toronto International Airport for a layover until the flight to Dublin, Ireland. It will be a whirlwind ten days while I am there. There will be a lot of things I do not get the chance to see, as I am with a group and our itinerary is set by the tour company. But I will be trying to use free-time to see some thing I have wanted to….such as Phil Lynott’s statue, and some the 1916 Easter Rebellion sites. One part of the trip will be to the Giant’s Causeway, which I have heard marvelous things about. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season….see you next calendar year!

Using Connectivity to Reduce My Stress or How Relationships With Others Help Me to Cope

There are a handful of things that stress me out to the maximum. Most people who have known me for a good bit know exactly what these things are:  over-demanding people, flying, and the so-called “Christmas season”. But knowing what things trigger your sense of being “overwhelmed” or a strong paralysis of fear (real or not) is one thing. Over the years, I have learned a handful of coping skills…mostly meant to distract my mind from such things.

The first is reading. And not just any kind of reading. Reading academic works generally has me staring off into the distance, trying to bring my mind to focus on a section of what I just read. Good ol’ fashioned story telling is where it is at for this. And I have certain writers that I have found to be quite excellent at this. They write stories that just engulf me when I read them. Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, and Neil Gaiman immediately jump to mind. As do Anne McCaffrey, J.K. Rowling, and George R.R. Martin. Though Martin drives me insane with his infinitely long writing times for the Game of Thrones books. I mean come on already man…  ::grin::  But those folks do more than just write stories; they generate a style of mythology that I enjoy. Characters that not only have life breathed into them through the combination of their words, and my own imagination of what I perceive, but these characters face issues that I would normally find in my own life. And what is even better is that these writers sometimes let us readers into the minds of these characters, as they (the characters) parse out what to do.

But this doesn’t really work in say, a crowded mall. Where you have to have some focal attention on what is going on. Well, the second is music. And I have a major ton of it in my iTunes and on my iPhone. Most of my walking is done throughout my small town here in north-central Texas. And I am not really interested in the electronic chiming of the nearby Catholic Church, or the sounds of kids playing or dogs barking at me. Nor am I particularly keen to listen to the sound of the occasional car or truck pass me by. That’s where my ear buds come in handy. I slap these in, and while it doesn’t completely drown out the sounds – and I really wouldn’t want that to happen because I still need some sense of perception of what is going on around me to remain safe – it does provide a handy soundtrack to the walk. Currently, I am typing this while listen to Al Di Meola. His guitar playing always stimulates my mind with the way he utilizes his instrument to convey feeling, and occasionally tell a story. Very few musicians have that quality.

The last one is to find a place far away from people, and just sit. I don’t need a book. I don’t need music. The sounds of the wind blowing through the bare tree limbs, and the nearby birds singing their serenade to the colder moments of Texas life are enough. Sometimes, I do this standing in my kitchen, holding a cup of coffee while I look out the window and watch the doves, sparrows and other birds devour the bird seed I scattered out by the pool. When I feel relaxed enough, I ground and center, and do some light meditation. I go back to my Inner Grove, back to a wonderful little cottage that I was shown not so long ago by a wonderful Priest and teacher. Her guided meditations helped me create this place in myself.

I can always come here and have a cup of hot tea or cocoa, and relax. My Dream Crows are always here, waiting. I tell them parts of the stories I have read, or I just talk. They don’t always listen. Sometimes they are loud, boisterous, and demanding. But they are always here, and always pleasant company. Sometimes, I get visited by Crow, Coyote or even Fliodhas. And it makes for a quiet conversation.

Certainly, being stressed out is one of the most difficult things for me to deal with. And there is far more than these three techniques. But these are my go-to ways, the first that I try. And if you noticed, all of them deal with creativity to one degree or another. To say that I am  patron of the arts and artists is an understatement. The mount of music, and recorded talks I have from various folks is vast. I have three huge bookshelves stocked with reading material from people I admire, and people that I know. On my walls, I have paintings and other creations from people I have met and gotten to know over the years. Each and every one is a fixed memory of this person or that one. Some still living, some who have passed beyond the veil, but all of whom have touched my life in one way or another.

See, the true nature of my coping skills towards stressors in my life comes from examining the connections that I have to the world. And that means marvelling at the wonderful connections that I have with other people. Sure, there are shitty people in the world. Sure, some of them I find in the aisles of Wal-Mart or in the malls around the United States. But there are beautiful, wonderful people in the world as well. Some of them are wonderful educators, others wonderful story-tellers, talented artists, writers, etc. They all have something in common: in one way or another, there is a connection that I have with them, and that connection is a wonderful, beautiful thing to behold. But its also an amazing way for me to remember that they are still there. We may not talk as much as I wish we could, or in some cases, we have never met. However, there is still that joyful connection, always there to drive back my stress levels – reminding me that each day is easily filled with them. Listening to their lectures, their music, their poetry, reading their works, experiencing the wonderful mythologies that they created, and in some cases, reading their emails detailing how their daily life is continuing – in both good and bad ways. Its that shared thread that reminds me that life is experienced in every moment. Good, bad, indifferent. And each experience is unique.

So I raise up my coffee cup to you, the individual reading this. Find what helps you get through the moments where you need to stop, ground and center, and bring yourself back to balance. Use that to help you back to focus. So that you are doing what you should be doing; what you are meant to do. Remember those experiences, examine each one to see where the connection is. Cherish that. Nurture it. Grow it. Cultivate more connections. That’s how we get through our individual storms. Together, even when we are not in physical proximity to one another.

Slainte! To your health! Now, I need another cup of coffee. ::grin::

–T /|\