Each Path for That Individual at That Time

Q:  How does one become a Pagan??

A:  Well, in my experience, as well as what I have managed to glean from others, it’s not so much “becoming” a Pagan, as much as it is finding that this wide myriad of Paths holds one that simply just “clicks” with you.

9112248859_703762b7e2_k…another of those questions that I get a lot from non-Pagans. Perhaps, I am a little different in my own personal theory on this, but I do not believe that people become Pagans, so much as they find one of the many Pagan paths that are out there that align better with what they believe within themselves. Not everyone is going to be a hard polytheist. Not everyone is going to find what they need within Wicca (I didn’t). But there is nothing wrong with either of those or with any other approach for that matter. Yes, I will even defend those that decide to place a pinch of racism into their own beliefs. So long as you are not harming anyone else because they do not follow your beliefs…or trying to push them off a Path that is similar to your own, simply because they will not align exactly with your own or (Gods forbid) using your beliefs or your position within those beliefs to harm another…I have zero issues with someone exploring their own idea of what the “divine” is.

For me, people eventually come to their own beliefs through their own experiences. For me, I always felt that the Gods and Goddesses were alive and individual beings when I was a young lad, hunting through encyclopedias in the Base Library. I could feel Their presence in the woods throughout Germany when I went walking with my parents (and several hundred other folks) during volksmarches. For others on their own spiritual paths (even on a path of Druidry very similar to my own), they may hold that there are an archetypal God and Goddess, or a universal Spiritual Divine, or even the Christian Trinity. It is not how I connect to the world around me, but I am not willing to push them off their Paths simply because the manner in which they experience their connectedness is different from my own.

We are nearing the beginning of Spring here in North Texas. Every day that I drive the eleven miles to and from work, I see the new-born calves in the pastures, sometimes huddled close to their mother cows, and other times running with my truck as I drive past them. Even despite the last pushes at a bitter cold have come down from the northern tier of the United States, these newborns are a reminder that Spring is on its way – as promised every year in the turning cycle. Through those moments, I see the hands of the Gods and Goddesses everywhere. Just as I am sure that a soft polytheist sees the nurturing aspects of the archetype Mother, and the Christian sees the nurturing hand of God.

Though it sounds like I am making a hard comparative point, I am actually not. Each of these is a manner in which some of my friends see the world around them, and find their own connections. Each sounds similar, but the reality is that they are not. Every individual finds their own unique connection to their environment utilizing the framework that works best for them. Other folks, do not even attempt to seek that connected strand out in their lives, while some will find the strand regardless, with no spiritual pull to it all.  And the hard reality is that each approach is correct – for the individual that utilizes it. And if it is not, that individual will seek a new connected experience, in their own time, at their own pace.

I know how I feel the connection to the Gods and Goddesses – to the Ancestors – to the Spirits of Place. That approach works for me. It is definitely not for me to tell a single person that their approach is wrong or incorrect. When someone comes to seek my advice (and admittedly, it is not often), I try my best to describe my approach and point out that it is my own. They might be able to glean something that works for them or perhaps, just hearing about my approach might spark an idea in a completely different direction for them. And that is really all I can do. Try to show other avenues that might be available and useful for them. It is why I write this blog. It is why I am going to continue the podcast. So that other folks can see that not every avenue is appropriate, but that searching out for different approaches might be enough to open the door.

This morning, I was watching the movie “Troy”. This is a guilty pleasure of mine. I love the dynamic between Achilles and the Priestess Briseis. There is a moment, which disagrees with how I perceive the Gods that takes place between these two characters:

Achilles: I’ll tell you a secret. Something they don’t teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.

While I agree with the sentiment of the beauty and fleeting treasure that a mortal life is, as Achilles describes it – I disagree that the Gods envy us. I believe, like us, the Gods have their own aspects of connectivity. Certainly, there is something to be said about how much richer the beauty of a fleeting moment may have. It certainly is a reminder of what we are as mortal beings. To find beauty, we only need to be silent in a forest at morning. Or in a field. Or even just outside of our front or back doors to our homes. To hear the wind whisper through the branches of the trees, through the tall grasses of the farmer’s field or through the leaves of the bushes near our homes. The warmth of the sun on our faces, or the cooled drops of rain. The feel of the dirt in our hands as we plant our crops or weed our flower beds. And those moments, those fleeting moments that will not be the same – even if we come back in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year or ever…those are the moments that live in our memories. Moments we will never experience exactly the same, again.

How we connect to everything around us, everyone around us, the Gods and Goddesses, our Ancestors, and the Spirits of Place – how we celebrate those moments in our own memories is what is important. Which Gods and Goddesses we seek the Divine in our lives is important – to each of us individually. When we gather together at certain points in the Wheel of the Year, we honor all the Gods and Goddesses collectively – aloud or silently. We also honor ourselves and each other. For we are unique individuals, and we will not be the same ever again then at that moment. For like our environment, just like the Gods and Goddesses, we are changing. Some changes are small, others (such as death) are massively consequential, for us, and others.

This all might seem a bit “rambly” (the spell-checking dictionary claims it to be a word) in nature, but I assure this is not. For me, it is quite a cohesive thought. I never “became” a Pagan. I never “became” a polytheist. I am both. I have always been both – even when I had no words or concepts to express it as such. I firmly believe that we do not “become” what we are. We grow into it. From whatever faith. From whatever perspective. Some get to that point of understanding faster than others. There is no judgment in that whatsoever. Some people walk a darkened forest path very quickly, instinctively knowing that illumination in some form will happen eventually. Others move along it slowly, careful not to trip over a hidden rock in the path, and listen carefully to the still air. The correctness of either of those choices or some other option is clearly up to the individual. It took me a while to find my Path, and to be at this point of it. There is a lot more for me to walk, experience and learn from. And even when I reach that destination tht I am seeking; there will be more Path to explore beyond that.

Looking Forward on My Journey – Part 3

So, I enter into the third and final part of looking at my Spiritual journey…a look at today and the unknown reaches of tomorrow. I have discussed the aspects of why Druidry is the framework I choose to work with. My current daily work leans more towards impromptu ritual, finding the spiritual in the everyday mundane, and trying to find new connections with the Gods, the Spirits of Place and Ancestor. This includes a deeper look into my own DNA and Ancestry that started last year during a visit to “The Celts” exhibit in London during my UK trip at the New Year.

DNA-related family has never been a strong point of mine. I have never felt like I was part of my relations, as my Path in life is vastly different than any of theirs. But during my trip through the Celts exhibit, there was a lot of information relating to the DNA side of things. That started me to wonder why I am drawn so heavily to a Celtic framework, particularly over these last few years. The more I dig into my ancestral roots, the more it makes sense. The more it makes sense, the more I relate to aspects of Celtic mythology that I never paid much attention to previously. I honestly do not see some of the connections, but am starting to see small aspects of it in the way I relate to the environment around me. The result of look at my Ancestry has me finding out where my family comes from, how they might  have believed, and how they may have related to their native land.

There’s Fliodhas. An Irish Goddess of the Forest, that has found Her way into my everyday Life. I do not readily understand the connection, but She takes a prominent role in my daily Life. She is in every moment that I am outdoors, whispering in my ear about the beauty of Life and the connections associated with that – both readily known, and those that are far more subtle. Where that Path is drawing me towards, I have no idea. But I readily walk it, staff in hand.

And finally there’s Druidry. I started my Bardic Grade a few years back. And honestly, I started out on-fire. Just ready to get things done. And then Life happened. Job changes. The amount of money that was available at any given time. Many other personal issues. I faltered. I took steps backwards in my studies. I did a poor job of documenting where I was, what I did to get to that point. I wound up dancing back and forth in place. Last year, after a conversation with several people at Gulf Coast Gathering, I buckled down my resolve to finish, and changed my attitude towards my studies. As a result, I am continuing down the road with what I must learn in the Bardic Grade, and am taking far better notes – not just on what I am learning, but also HOW I am learning it. The idea/hope is that I will be able to take those lessons and apply those going forward into the Ovate Grade, provided I am accepted to move forward.

Lastly, there is my tie to two First Nations trickster Gods. Crow and Coyote. Coyote started my journey, with lessons concerning the degree of seriousness I approached the world around me. I have learned to be a bit looser with the way I approach the world, and to not only find the positive in the world — but also find the humor in situations. Even when things look catastrophically bad. Earlier this month, I purchased a camper. I have no idea how to back it up properly. To get it into my driveway, I drove through my front yard in order to pull it down my driveway in a semi-straight line. That, I could back up. It certainly smacked of being a silly situation….and I can laugh about it. It happened. It was a silly solution, but it was still a solution.

Every day is a new moment for me. I greet the sun’s rise, and try to approach the day with a new motivation, a new vision to accomplishing tasks set before me, and with new eyes so I can try and discover new pathways that I did not notice before. At the end of the day, I say goodnight to the sun, and ask for the promise that He will rise again for tomorrow’s dawn. I set aside my frustrations over the course of the day, and prepare for an evening where I can relax, read, or study. My daily Path is about constantly learning, focusing, relaxing, and then refocusing again – all with the measure that each day is a new start. And each new day allows me to take new, fresh steps on my daily Path…find new connections I had not considered before, and strengthen the connections I already have. My Past through the Catholic faith, the southern Baptist faith, and within Wicca have helped bring me here. Whether the lessons I learned were negative, positive, or neutral does not matter. There was something to be gleaned from those times within my life. Paganism is the stream that brought me to where I am now, opened my eyes and mind to the perspective of individual Gods and Goddesses, and has renewed my faith in that perspective each and every day. I am on a pathway of Druidry, as a Polytheist Pagan. That’s who I am. But I can never discount or demean where I have come from. All of that is a part of me as well.

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Remembering My Journey – Part 2 – Wicca, Paganism, the US Military and the Gods

From the very beginning, it was obvious to me that Wicca was not a complete fit for me. I was still grappling with the concept of duality (God and Goddess) within the bounds of what I had been taught. In trying to understand that both God and Goddess were separate entities, I fell back to my Catholic roots. Much like there was Big Daddy, Junior and the Spook (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the concept of God and Goddess found fertile ground in my understanding of my personal spirituality. It still wasn’t quite what I believed, but I barely had any manner of explaining how I really felt about the concept of God, Goddess, and my own personal approach. So, this was enough for me for the time being. I could shoehorn my own beliefs into this, at least for the time being. Perhaps the terminology and concepts I would learn going forward would be helpful in generating my own perceptions. So like a lady trying on shoes in Al Bundy’s shoe store, I pushed as much as I could into the boundaries provided, and pretended that it fit.

July 1992
Me – USAF – July 1992

Now, I joined the United States Air Force in 1986, so here I was just a little over a year in and I found my first area of controversy. I worked the night shift at the Carswell Air Force Base (Fort Worth) data processing facility. My shift was comprised of five individuals and myself. Of those five, four were charismatic Christians. Like charismatics in the military, they were over-the-top about their beliefs, and not afraid to shove their beliefs down your throat. My first night on shift, with Drawing Down the Moon to read, lead to all kinds of problems. I caught attitude from all four of these preacher-types. One of them lived three doors down from me in the dorms. He continued the same in-your-face moments with me outside of the work place. Complaints to my chain of command about my work ethic started to crop up. I went from being the guy who knew the mainframe system better than the civilian engineers from UniSys to being the problem child. In 1990, my transfer orders for Germany came in, and I danced inside at the idea of being away from these people.

Practicing Pagans -- Stars and Stripes -- 13Oct1992 -- Page 14Practicing Pagans -- Stars and Stripes -- 13Oct1992 -- Page 15

Germany proved no different. I wound up in another duty section with a born-again Christian, but here my beliefs were respected. As long as I kept my beliefs to myself, there were no problems. Religious discussions were typically avoided. And I found a group of individuals who were not only sympathetic to my position as a Pagan, when I was featured in the centerfold story of “Practicing Pagans” for the Stars and Stripes newspaper – they kindly poked fun at me (my last name was misspelled as “Ban Hook” in the story). This was also the time frame where I parted ways with Wicca.

As I noted before, Wicca never really fit what I understood as my own personal Spirituality. I just never had the words to understand. But I did have the companionship of the people that were part of the coven I studied with. When I left for Germany, I had none of that. I was on my own. And I had a better understanding of Paganism; a better understanding of the dual concepts of the God and Goddess; and a stronger understanding of polytheism. I finally had concepts that fit what I believed – a wider, more expansive view of the perspective of Deities, specifically Gods and Goddesses. With no group to provide an anchorage, I started to explore my own concepts of Paganism. Without that safe harbor of a coven, I found other Pagans in my nearby communities. We banded together under the moniker of “The Pagan Support Group” (which always seemed silly for a title), and I started to learn more about how other Pagans approached their beliefs, their rituals, and their Spirituality. It was here that I started describing myself as a “neo-Pagan”. I wasn’t trying to recreate something from earlier history. I was constructing my own Path through the forests.

And the forests of Germany was where I once again found myself feeling free. Much like the years where I spent time volksmarching as a kid through the woods – I found myself taking long walks in the woods very near to the military base housing I lived in. And it was in these woods that I had my first experience with a Spirit of Place.

Carving at a Roman Spring
Celtic/Roman Shrine – Kindsbach, Germany

I was walking along a ridge above the Celtic/Roman shrine that you see in the picture. This is just west of a small town called Kindsbach, which itself is just west of the outskirts of the city of Kasierslautern. It is in the wooded area just to the south of the football field on the west side of Kindsbach. The ridge above this comes to the edge of a small 40-ish foot cliff to the path that runs right part this shrine. The area is frequently walked by the residents of the area, and they pick up most of the trash. I spent time getting the stuff that they generally missed or was a bit too far for them to reach. On this particular day, I had gotten close to the edge of the ridge, which kicks my Acrophobia into high gear. So I sat down with my back against a tree and tried to collect my breath. I shut my eyes, and felt a presence. I neither heard nor felt any specific communication, but felt a feeling of “thanks”. At first I took no notice of it. But every single time I came back, I felt that same feeling. And on the day I knew would be my last time there – when I knew I was going back to the States the next day – I could feel sorrow at my leaving. I stayed there until nightfall, which is not advised because of the wild boar population. When I walked back to my microbus (what I was driving at the time), I stopped and turned back to look at the wooded visage in front of me. It felt like a small child was hugging both of my legs tightly. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and will return some time in my lifetime to revisit this place.

That single experience opened my eyes to a much wider world of Spirituality. Monotheism, and Duotheism would never be workable concepts for me. I finally had the words to understand what I believed. I believe in many Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestors….polytheism. The belief in many, individual Gods and Entities. Now my Spiritual Path would lead me to find a framework on which to build my personal Spiritual beliefs upon.

 

Remembering My Journey – Part 1 – Pre-Pagan Beginnings

Usually, for the blog, I think of a topic that piques my interest and write. Sometimes, its a response to another blogger’s post. And every once in a while I get a question from someone wanting me to write on something. That’s the case for this particular post. One of the folks over at the podcast’s page on Facebook commented that it would be interesting if I blogged about about how I came to where I am on my own Spiritual Path. I have talked about little pieces of this throughout the blog. But never all of it at once. So, let’s give it a whirl. Warning:  this is going to be in a couple of pieces….

img_0159While my true walk into a Pagan Path starts somewhere around 1987, the true beginnings are much further back than that. Back in my pre-teen years. I was raised in a military (US Air Force) family, and moving from location to location was the theme of the week for me. I was born in Tokyo, Japan, moved to Washington DC; Del Rio, Texas; and Weisbaden, West Germany in the span of a handful of years. From the age of six, I started doing volksmarching with my parents on the weekends, which usually had us walking 10 kilometers in the German fields and forests. At the end of the walking, I got a nice little medal (which I still have a huge pile of these), and my parents would stop at one of the local vendors to get soft drinks for my mother, my sister and I while my father enjoyed a local brew. Walking in the forests and open fields provided me with the love of being in the forests and fields that I have today. Looking backwards, this is really the start of where my personal Spiritual Path begins.

But that’s the reverence of Nature part. My first taste of the Gods comes in nearly the same time frame. As I have posted before, it was through a set of Encyclopedias. The Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses were presented to me in this way. And this also helped fuel a love affair I have had in World History with the Roman Empire. It was nearly a decade later, that Gary Gygax and TSR helped me see the wider world of polytheism, through the deities__demigods_front_cover_first_editioneyes of Dungeons and Dragons. Yeah.  AD&D helped to open my eyes with the interesting and (for a teenager with little desire to read) expansive tome “Deities and Demi-Gods”. Once again, Roman and Greek Gods and Goddesses were presented, but so were Norse, Celtic, Sumerian, Japanese, Chinese, and many others. It literally allowed me to see a world filled with Gods and Goddesses that were individual entities. Of course, none of that filtered into my mind as real, tangible entities. After all, Dungeons and Dragons was just a game where you used your imagination. There definitely was more to come.

All during this time, I was being brought up in Catholic schools. Not because my family was Catholic, both of my parents were Protestants who didn’t go to church. I was sent to Catholic schools to get “a better education than I could in public schools,” which I certainly did. I finished next to last in my class in overall GPA. But my collegiate test scores showed that I was capable of far more than I ever managed in class. In my senior year of high school, I decided to move on from the Catholic faith system, I never participated in the mass other than to stand, sit and kneel at the appointed times. I never took communion, nor did I ever sit in a confessional (I think Father Reising would have had a heart attack if I confessed all the “sins” I had committed by the time I was seventeen). I moved along to the southern Baptist faith, which seemed to have prettier ladies and a co-ed softball team I could play on (my interests were hardly along the Spiritual lines at this point in my life).

My experiences within the southern Baptist soured me completely on religion as a whole. All I heard about was how I was a disappointment in the eyes of God. How I needed to hit my knees and beg forgiveness every single day of my life, in the hopes of having begged hard enough that God would let me into “Paradise” when everything was done. I constantly heard from adults that my long hair was “not acceptable” – a comment that was always made out of the earshot of others. Honestly, if I wanted to hear comments like that, I only needed to go home and listen to my conservative father’s comments after he had a beer or two.

It doesn’t take me long to move on from this, and I spend a few years not even thinking about my religious beliefs. I join the military, and leave the “religion” area of my dog tags blank. While in the military, I begin dating a Wiccan. She was a few years older than me, but we attempted to make a go of things. One of the first things that was brought up was her beliefs. She handed me three books to read before we even started our overall conversation: Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon”, Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance”, and Raymond Buckland’s “Witchcraft From the Inside”. Of the three books, I really get into Adler’s. I wind up purchasing a copy of this from a local Pagan book shop for myself, and read through it another four times. The year?  Yep, we’ve reached that 1987 point that I mentioned before. Where things go from here….is part of the next post.

…and Home to the Fey

After driving for four solid days on America’s interstate system (and some of its back roads), I found that spending time in the cab of a pickup truck by myself allowed for a lot of time for thinking. And with no one to bounce ideas or concepts off of…I eventually had conversations with myself in my own mind. Most of those conversations came about because of unique moments. Such as the moment when I realized I was driving into the mountains (more like very tall hills, but who is really counting?) near Mammoth Cave National Park, and my revolving music playlist started up with “The Hills They Are Hollow” by Damh the Bard. I had to pull over into the next rest area, sit outside on a picnic bench and marvel at the world around me.

IMG_0243The mountains have a huge appeal factor for me. Just being in the mountains makes me feel at home, and a lot calmer than I am out here on the plains, where I live. During this part of my trip, I was driving in a narrow construction zone with eighteen wheelers and other traffic zooming around me (I was driving the posted speed limit). I know I should have felt nervous, but instead I felt calm and assured. In a similar construction zone on the east side of Memphis, Tennessee (the previous day), I was extremely nervous and agitated with the same type of traffic around me. I know I am in kinship with the Spirits of Place in mountainous areas.

That kinship with Spirits of Place is something I have started to explore in more depth. Each time I go into a mountainous area, I spend time just being outside – hiking, sitting, walking, standing – just being. Opening myself to the moment and the feeling. There is really no way to describe the feeling I have – other than being calm, and clear-headed. Anything that is happening elsewhere in my Life is on hold during that time. I am right there, focused on that moment – drinking in all the sensations and experiences I can.

Quite a while back, I had mentioned somewhere about a conversation I had with a fellow coworker. His questions were concerning where I get my moral authority from. My response was that I certainly don’t get it from a book. At one time in my life, I had my feet firmly planted in the Christian faith. But during that entire time, I never felt comfortable with the mandates and rules that came from its pages. Particularly when I was told that the Pastor or Preacher or Priest needed to “interpret” what was written there. I was even more uncomfortable, when I realized that the Bible was considered to be “divine inspiration” even though it was translated into the English from the Latin and was translated into the Latin from the Greek. And when I started to realize that passages in the Bible could be countermanded with other passages from the same Bible – I began to not trust what I was told to believe in blindly.

I understand my own moral code. I should not kill others out of spite or simply because they are different. I should not shun others who are different either. I trust people when they give me reasons to trust them. I should stop people from harming others. I should strive towards finding peaceful solutions to issues as a primary means. I didn’t need a book to teach me this. I only had to place myself in the shoes of the other person and think of how I would want to be treated. Call that the Golden Rule or whatever you want to…I just know that is where my compass is.

I follow the Old Gods. That does not mean that I think everyone MUST follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I have a grip on how others should follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I understand the relationship between others and the Gods and Goddess I am drawn towards. My relationship with Them is as unique as it is between any of Them and others. I am not the Gatekeeper to Polytheism…and if there ever was such a position – I wouldn’t want it in the first place.

But all of that, coupled with being out in Nature – particularly mountains – is what makes me feel alive. Every single moment of every single day. On the worst days I have experienced to the most incredible experiences that I cannot even begin to describe. And driving through the mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky made me feel that exhilaration. I felt “at home”. I felt “calm”. I felt positively alive. I wanted to stop the truck on the side of the interstate and climb up into the woods around me. I wanted to feel the leaves of the trees in my hands, and the warmth of the sun-soaked soil between my toes. I wanted that moment of ecstasy. I settled for sitting on a picnic bench in a rest area along the interstate. And it was enough.

And during all that time, I could feel the soft warmth of Fliodhas’ hand on one shoulder, Crow’s claws digging in slightly on the other, and the warm fur coat of Coyote in my hand at my side. And I could hear the words in my mind:  “There’s deep, old magick in these mountains. You should explore more.” And I certainly shall….

Two Pence – Pagan Leadership

IMG_9670Leadership scares the shit out of me. Seriously. I have noted this a few times: some folks look at me as a “natural” leader. I maintain that I am not. But my reasoning, while gathered from a fictional character in a movie, is weak at best.

In a scene from the Sylvester Stallone movie “The Demolition Man”, the character of Edgar Friendly makes the statement: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes people come with me.” It is a snarky line, but it is also an issue of pushing the leadership off into space.

See, there are leadership qualities that people have – the ability to think quickly on your feet. The ability to break problems into workable tasks. The ability to delegate those workable tasks to people who have the ability to get those done. And the ability to motivate people to get things done. For some strange reason, I have some of the ability to motivate people. I know that I have the ability to break problems down into workable tasks. I do that every day in my job. I also have the ability to stay calm when things come apart at the seams. But I have to be honest and give the United States Air Force the credit for some of this as well. All of that is delineated into a particular skillset. Its called troubleshooting.

In my opinion, troubleshooting is not a skillset of leadership. It is a skillset of the Troubleshooter, which is something I do consider myself to be. I enjoy taking situations that are in chaos, sorting things out, prioritizing what needs to be done, and rolling up my sleeves and getting arm deep in the issues. I can be problematic when I am in this mode. I can push those that are in a position of leadership out of the way. Essentially picking them up, setting them to one side, and saying: “Stay right there until I solve this. Then you can have the steering wheel again.” In my military career, I have told Commissioned Officers to “get the fuck out of the way” while trying to resolve mainframe systems issues. It never made me popular with the Officers, but the enlisted folks (of which I was) loved me for it.

But let’s be clear on something. I never shoved people out of the way, unless I was sure that I could resolve the problem. In the Air Force, I knew my systems inside and out. In two locations, only the Field Engineers were more knowledgeable than the 23-year old me on how the system operated. Older non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers learned to get out of the way when I was called in to repair things. But I had to earn that kind of respect, by showing that I could resolve problems that were set in front of me. That’s not a skill of leadership. Rather that’s a skillset of technical ability. And that technical ability masked on arrogance that I had.

Leadership is not about shoving people out of the way and proclaiming yourself the expert. A better version of me – now nearly thirty years down the line and full of life experiences – would counsel the twenty-three year old me to not shove people out of the way, but counsel them on how to resolve the problem, looking over their shoulders, and explaining why this particular issue was resolved in this particular way. Leadership is not about pointing and directing. That’s a task for ego-maniacs. And I have seen plenty of my share of these in the Pagan community. A Leader teaches others how to resolve the problems, allowing their hands to be the ones that turn the wrenches and use the tools, while explaining the reasoning behind each process.

Leadership is a status that is earned. Rightly or wrongly. The individual(s) empowering you into a position of leadership have confidence in your ability to resolve issues, and put things into motion. Sometimes, you have this bit of respect thrust upon you. For example, a newcomer to Paganism or Polytheism will look to you as their example of what it means to be [x] within Paganism or Polytheism. Whether you wanted that role or not, it is given to you. Even after you explain that you’re no leader, in your best Edgar Friendly impersonation. And if you think about it…it is a weak explanation, as well.

See, I am nearly fifty-one years old this year. I have been in Paganism in one capacity or another since 1987. That’s twenty-nine years of being a Pagan. I was a doe-eyed newbie at one time too. Anyone who had been in Paganism for any length of time, regardless of Path, was an incredible person to me. Until I met Pattalee. She ran one of the few local Pagan bookstores in the area with her (then) husband. I would go down there, and tentatively sit one a bar stool next to the jewelry counter. And I would ask questions, and listen to the answers – hanging on her every word. I guess she humored me at first. But after a while, instead of answering my questions, she would prompt me to answer my own questions. Then, she would have a long, prolonged discussion of where my logic was incorrect, and where I made assumptions that had no factual basis. Instead of puzzling things out for me, she quietly prompted me to learn from myself. Sadly, she passed away quite some time back, and her ex-husband eventually closed the store. But I always remembered those talks, and how she dealt with the doe-eyed newbie sitting in front of her.

After her passing beyond the veil, it took nearly another decade before I realized that she talked with me through a position of leadership. The authority of leadership had been given to her by me. She most likely didn’t want it, but she accepted it – and led me gently towards the habit of puzzling things out for myself. She gently showed me how to look inside myself and find the answers that I was needing. And pointed out how the “truths” as I found them applied to me, and not necessarily to others. Leadership is not about molding people forcibly, but showing them the potential that is inside of themselves.

Newbies may hand you a mantle of leadership, simply because you have been around longer than they have. Throwing that mantle back in their faces and saying that you’re no leader is not the way to handle things. Folding that mantle up, and setting it to the side, with care and reverence respects the responsibility that you have been handed. And eventually, you will be able to gently, and with respect, hand that mantle back to those newbies – pointing out that they have always been able to fend for themselves. In my opinion, this is how we grow our Pagan community. We don’t grow leaders in this process. Some of those newbies will become leaders in their own right. We grow self-sufficient Pagans and Polytheists, able to handle themselves as Solitary practitioners of their own connectivity with the Gods, and able to work within the wider ranging Pagan and Polytheist communities as individual parts of the whole. Able to be Priests/Priestesses and Leaders without becoming tyrants. Able to teach others how to grow, without delineating debilitating and crippling dogma that creates a belief structure that is too rigid to be flexible with the changing world around us. We grow Pagans and Polytheists that learn to cultivate their relationships with others, the Gods, the Spirits of Place, and Spirits of Ancestors, while expanding their understanding of those connections and their own position within those sacred relationships.

Yeah, I can claim to not be a leader. That I just do things, and sometimes people come along. But in the end, that statement – while playful – is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to the people that come along. It is a wise-ass dismissal of the authority that they hand to me. It is slapping the respect that they have for me as an elder in the wider Pagan community, while laughing in their face with my flippant comment. And to be honest, it is long past time for me to ditch the attitude. I’m a podcaster and a blogger in the Pagan community. I make commentary on how I feel about Paganism and Polytheism from both platforms. And whether I want to agree with it or not, I set myself out there for my opinions to be read. And people respect me for that. Yes, some of them hand me their respect as an authority., as an elder. And I need to return that respect as well. I need to follow Pattalee’s example, and fold up that mantle and set it to the side. And listen.

Pagan leadership is about helping the community. Troubleshooting issues. Listening. Growing Pagans that are new to this Path. Leadership is about being the appropriate example to our community. And we are all leaders, in one capacity or another.

Two pence….  –T /|\

Shedding Our Christian Clothes

This weekend, I am putting together the latest episode of “Upon a Pagan Path” and I am featuring a talk from Cat Treadwell on Priesthood. This weekend is also the Many Gods West conference, which I wish I had the vacation time to go to, but unfortunately do not. There’s always next year though. However, both of these particular points have helped clear some of the fog I have had on what I am writing about now – the growing future of modern Paganism.
Before I get going too far, let me preface all of this with one point: this is completely my opinion and perspective. I do realize that there will be those who disagree with me on the overall context of what I am presenting, and perhaps even just in the manner in which I am presenting it. I am not writing this to create a reaction. I am writing this as the start of a conceptual dialogue. Much of this comes directly from listening to conversations that were had in open, public space within Pantheacon, as well as a few private conversations had around campfires at OBOD East Coast and Gulf Coast Gatherings. Other parts of this were inspired from the writings of other bloggers, such as John Beckett, Byron Ballard, Shauna Aura Knight, as well as the writings of Authors such as Joanna van der Hoeven, Cat Treadwell, Nimue Brown, and many, many others. The conceptual idea behind this post arrives directly from those campfire conversations, where a few people have gathered around, and take on the role of “solving the world’s problems” over a cup of beer underneath a blanket of stars. So, please understand, I am not seeking debate…I am attempting to start a conversation, whose roots go back into all that I have read, discussed, and overheard over the last two-plus years. Hopefully, in the end, you’ll not only understand, but also start to ask similar questions and seek out campfire conversations under similar night skies.
There are plenty of “introduction” books and blogs and podcasts out there. Lots of information for the Pagan taking their initial steps on this Path. Many breadcrumb trails for the exploring Seeker to locate and follow as they grow their knowledge and understanding of something that seems foreign, new, and fresh. But what about those who are looking to grow their knowledge and understanding beyond these introductory points? And those who are wanting to create new knowledge?
In the past, I have discussed some of the difficulties I have in accepting the title of “Priest” within what I do as a polytheist Pagan. But as I have started to dive deeper and deeper into my personal studies, I have started to notice a trend that has helped explain parts of my trepidation. Many of us “elders” (another term I have had some difficulty with, and for some of the same reasons I am about to note) came to Paganism from other initial Paths. Many of us started out our lives being taught aspects of the various Christian faiths in our youth. As such, many of the similar terms that we utilize within our Paganism continues to hold an undercoat of what we learned about Christianity. Let’s face it, when people talk about “priests” – many of us normally envision a Catholic Priest, or perhaps even a Baptist preacher, each leading in the instruction of their respective faiths to their seated, quite and respectful congregations. Yet, when we talk about being Priests within the Pagan community, our understanding of the term can sometimes be at complete odds with what we initially learned in our lives.
I can easily state that I am no Priest in the same vein as a Catholic Priest or even a Baptist preacher. The very thought of being similar to either of these archetypes makes me cringe in horror. Neither of these functions are what I do as a Priest to Fliodhas. Nor are either of these concepts what I do as an ally of Crow and Coyote. Yes, I perform rituals to honor each of them, as well as other Gods. I perform rituals to honor the cycles of the Year. I read books, magazines, and bloggers to grow my knowledge and understanding on various topics and ideas, and perhaps people get similar things from what I write. I am a Priest, just not in the sense of what I perceive of that term from Christian upbringing.
But then there are so many other terms that we utilize in our Pagan practices that are heavily tinged in understanding from the Christian faith. Ritual. Sacrifice. Priest. Rites. Celebration. And the list can continue on and on. I have begun to wonder whether its this slight tinge from our collective pasts that can cause problems for us in transitioning from 101 Pagan thought to growing towards 201 Pagan thought – to borrow a piece of imagery from the collegiate community.
So who dressed our Priests, Priestesses and to some degree our rituals in these definitions? That would be us. We brought our own understanding and luggage from our earlier years with us. Our understanding of authoritarian figures such as the Priest and Preacher came from our early years in our respective churches. Our understanding that the patriarchal figures were those that could interpret the holy scriptures for us at the Sunday morning congregations came from the heavily male-oriented Christian models that were a part of nearly every Sunday we partook as a family. Arriving within Paganism, this male dominated perspective was one of the easier things to shake off for most of us. Providing an equal voice between the sexes was not a massive jump. But shedding the clothes that we put on the archetypes of leadership in the form of the Priest and preacher are far more difficult to remove. Even when females fill those roles, we still ascribe similar functions and authority to those roles.
IMG_0215And its not just those roles that provide the stumbling blocks. Our symbolism of what ritual is to each of us is rooted in that same Sunday-morning programming that we had undertaken. We come together. We open our ritual. We sing together. We allow the authoritarian figure to speak of what the celebration means. We celebrate our rite, we sing again, we close. We go home, and change out of our Pagan-day clothes and rejoin our regularly scheduled day.
Some folks are refreshed from these ceremonies and rituals. They allow the experience to get hold of them and enjoy the ecstatic experience that their beliefs bring to them. Others, go through the motions, and are content with being around others txt they consider to be friends – not partaking in the ecstatic experience that their beliefs provide. And all of that is fine. Each participant will get what they can/want from it. But I am left to wonder, are the tinges of Christian faith holding back the ability to grow our Paganism?
Interestingly enough, we have a phenomenon currently taking place in today’s Pagan communities that was not as large nor as prevelant as before: we have young adults coming into their own within our community that have known an entire upbringing as Pagans. From my perspective, I would term this young adults as “native Pagans”, but that term may not be completely appropriate. But I am excited to see where they will take Paganism in the coming years, without the constraints and wrappings that may be there with definitions and terminology tinged from a monotheistic belief system. I am curious if they will strip the terms and definitions down to the bare bone, and then build those up in their own understanding? And if they did, where will it go?
I have several discussions on the Blogosphere that have talked about “rewinding” Paganism – taking it back to its roots, in order to allow it to progress forward in a different manner. On this, I complete agree. I do believe that Paganism – at least my own individual understanding of it – needs to take a step backwards in order to progress forward. That I need to strip back the meaning and definitions of some of the terminology I use – particularly those where I find myself averse to the usage of it because of the Christian clothing I have dressed it in since my youth. bring it back to the barest definition, and then build it up from there – carefully, slowly – insuring that I only add perspectives and perceptions that work directly for me, and shed the clothing from a monotheistic belief system that no longer works for me or fits into my daily practice.
Its my sincere belief, that its the tinge of Christianity which plays a huge part in how Paganism gets hold back in a 101 stance, when it could move forward into a 201 stance. I also believe that each individual will need to assess how much, if at all, that this restrains some of the growth of Paganism into the future. For some, what I am suggesting might be a silly notion, and I understand that. For others, they may see a lot of what stilts and stunts their own personal growth, and need to step back and re-evaluate. I wonder whether this is something that the over-arching Pagan community may need to look over and evaluate as well, going into the future? On that particular perspective, I can’t answer. My Path is mine to walk on my own. I sure don’t mind the company during parts of it though. So, please walk alongside with me if you like.