If You Want to Predict the Future, Live it With Your Eyes Wide Open

Tommy at the Beach
Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

I read a lot. Probably more than I should. And rarely is it just stuff on Paganism or Druidry. usually, it is about History, particularly the history of computing. One of my favorite books is What the Dormouse Said” by John Markof which goes into lengthy detail about how the world of experimental drug use helped some of the visionaries of the computer dream up some of the stuff that we take for granted. One of the people chronicled in the book is Alan Kay, to whom the quote that stirred this post is attributed to. There is some debate as to whether he really stated such, but it eventually became the working maxim of Xerox PARC, where much of the computing world’s innovations grew from.

If you want to predict the future, invent it.

Which is quite literally, what they did at Xerox PARC. So, what does this have to do with a blog on Paganism and Druidry? Well, if you have read this for any length of time, you know that I take long looks into my own personal past. I have never claimed to be a Saint or any type of visionary. I have helped out in a handful of causes within the United States military to help further religious equality. When I left the US military, others stepped up and took my place and continued pushing forward. My contributions, however small those may be, are a part of the legacy I leave behind.

Standing still and looking back is nice, but coming back to Kay’s point – what about tomorrow? I turn fifty-three later this year (much later this year), and I have no desire to shuffle off this mortal coil any time in the future. As a wider-arching community, we stand in a whirling dervish of confusion, anger, miscommunication, and pain. When I try to see forward, that miasma clouds what may happen, what might be, what can be – and that makes the footing uncertain. what can I do to help leave my Pagan community a better one than when I arrived in the middle of the Witch Wars of the late 1980s?

To be extremely explicit here, I am no savior. I won’t be the individual that solves all the problems of the world. In fact, I see myself as nothing more than an extremely minor character in the world around me. I blog. I write my thoughts out here for others to read. My readership is fairly small. What impact can I have? I have no desire to be a “famous-Amos” in the Pagan community. I truly just want to be me – a simple Priest of Crow, a Druid on a Path to honor the Gods, just me. I am not a shining beacon of hope. I am no paragon of virtue, no hero of true deeds. Every day, I ask what it is that I can do to help make my Pagan community better. And every day, I hear the same things in the back of my mind:

Get involved. Just be you. Your contribution is to be yourself. Your future is to walk your Path and to stumble and fall. And then to get back up, dust off your cloak, and continue your Path.

Is it really just that simple? Just get up in the mornings and greet the Sun? Get out in the backyard and pour my offerings to the Gods? To say the words, make the gestures, and pour my soul into what I believe? Surely, there is a quest that I can undertake? There is a fight that I can be a part of?

And then the response comes:

What about getting involved? Get off your ass and get back into your community. You are a solo Pagan. Being solo means you walk your Spiritual Path by yourself. That is who you are, but you do not walk your daily Path in life by yourself. You cannot and will not survive like that. There are no heroic quests to undergo. There is no ring to carry. No tremendous burden that needs to be placed on your shoulders. You want a quest? SHOW people what it means to be a Pagan. BE who you are, but no one can see that just through your words.

Yeah. Getting dressed down by your God is never an awesome thing. Nor is it a great thing to realize that you have been eating too much of the fantastic world of Fantasy novels, where the common character becomes an uncommon hero by having some heavy burden or quest placed upon them. Life is not a quest to throw the One Ring into the volcano. And real Life is not a constant struggle against the Orcs or the difficulties of traversing the mines of Moria.

So what does the future hold for me? I really cannot say for sure. As I noted, the way forward is cloudy. But then, the future is always an uncertain thing to predict. Sure, I can follow Key’s maxim and try to ‘invent’ my way through it. But then, isn’t the future always going to be a product of invention? We are never sure of the way forward and have to take the steps to see if the footing is firm and sure. Inventing is – for me – a rather poor word choice for this. Perhaps, a little editing and mending might be more appropriate.

If you want to predict the future, live it.

After all, finding out what the future holds means walking through the mists and discovering what lies beyond. And for me, that means shedding some of the illusions of being some form of hero in all of this. As has been noted before, the Storm is here. The dervish has pulled all of us into it to one degree or another. We have all experienced some of the chaotic winds that it provides. And for me, I have stumbled and fallen from my Path. Time to right myself, dust off my cloak, pick up my staff and continue doing what it is that I should be doing. There are some unpredictable aspects to all of this, including how to get back into my wider Pagan community, which means trying to see how and where I fit in. And being an individual that is not very good at public, social situations – that means pushing myself into areas where I am uncomfortable. I have no desire to predict the future, but to find out what the future holds – I have to live it. And I have to live it with my eyes wide open.

–T /|\

Advertisements

Digging Ourselves Up in the Future

History is a subject that I devour like small candy pieces. Reading an individual’s interpretation as to how a group of people did or did not live in a time frame long lost to the empty reaches of time can sometimes be amusing or very eye-opening. And the manner in which a historian presents their perspective with the passion usually reserved for a special Lover can literally sell the reader’s belief in the right or wrong of what is being presented. How much of what is presented is reality, and how much conjecture?

That particular point has been one I have faced with some degree of amusement. I am sure there is a side of humanity, one hundred years in the future, that will look upon the presidency of the Sunkist Orange with a layer of amusement combined with a layer of awestruck horror. But that is not what I am referring to. Rather, I have wondered what the future may hold for the modern Pagan and Polytheist movements. How will the future archeologists of the future view someone living a dedicated Pagan, Polytheistic lifestyle? How would the small stone circle in my backyard be viewed through the backward facing lens of the future?

cropped-img_28671.jpgOf course, there is a lot more documentation of the meaning of such things through our blog posts, our own writings – which honestly are far more voluminous today than just a few decades in our own recent past. We have blog posts that spread throughout the world via the internet. There are podcast episodes that do the same thing, except via sound. There are YouTube channels of many Pagans talking about their beliefs, their practices, and even demonstrating some of their ritual techniques. And the books. The music. The storytelling. All a part of our legacy to the future – whether we intend it to be or not.

And will our intentions with all of that recorded history and thought be understood with the same intention it was made with? After all, the future history could be colored with a jaundiced eye that receives its primary instruction of belief from a society that is even more Christian-oriented than it is today. Or perhaps one where a spiritual belief of any kind has been abandoned for one reason or another. Perhaps, our digital media recordings have been wiped from recorded history because of some digital disaster. And the written, paper media has been dissipated and dissolved from the inevitable decay of time. That would mean that all that was left were the storytellers – left to repeat and reiterate the understanding of our history from generation to generation around the nighttime fires.

Yes, the storyteller has the chance to reign supreme if a complete failure of human society occurs. If the world suddenly becomes the nightmares depicted within the Mad Max movies, the storytellers will continue. And knowing the manner in which stories are misremembered within oral-only tellings, how much can our history become distorted? How much bias can be injected into the remembering of Pagans and Polytheists by the Storyteller themselves? Yes, there is power in the Spoken word; particularly if the written word is not there to provide a secondary reference.

Now I am painting a particularly gloomy future. But the same distortion can be found if a utopian, technology-driven society is in place. After all, a Pagan, Polytheist society can be wiped out by a societal group with sufficient numbers. What would these archeologists make of all of us? Would we be a backward society? Would we be a small, superstitious cult?

On the other hand, a society that grows into something our wildest dreams could not even contain may look at our current Pagan and Polytheist communities as individuals who had to fight for equality and proper recognition. And sometimes lost those battles. Perhaps an archeological dig would turn up our various ritual tools, and Pagan-eseque items. We could be scoffed at for our consumerist tendencies. Or our future generations may wonder how we could manage our rituals and home worship without this particular item or another.

All of this makes me wonder even more about how I might be perceived were my home be the site of an archeological dig. Would it be possible to tell the difference between my Pagan home versus those of my nearby neighbors, most of whom are Catholic? Should they be able to tell the difference, aside from my backyard stone circle? When it comes to our history, the cultural effects that we might leave behind as Pagans and Polytheists, could the future properly decipher who we were, what we believed, and how we lived? And if we are to create something that would provide these clues in an appropriate manner, how should our lives look?

And honestly, while these are great questions to marvel over – to tease some odd angles out of our thinking – much of this smacks of the old “Pagan Enough” movement of a few years back, for which I have a good deal of disdain for. A Pagan is a Pagan. It is not what they own, what they wear, who they have sex with, what books are on their shelves, or how large their compost pile is that makes them who they are. Its what is in their heart, and how they approach their concept of what is divine. It is about how they connect to their environment around them. And not one bit of that can be discerned by their photos, the clothes in their closet, who they read or what car they drive.  No, it is what is in their hearts and who they are – and the truth they have for themselves. And when we finally have the ability to leave that behind in something other than our writings and recordings – then we might be able to convey that to the future. But until that becomes possible, the clues we leave behind have just as much of a chance to confusing us as the clues left behind by our ancestors from prehistoric ages. Much like we are doing to our previous generations, our future generations will have to make the best-educated guesses that they can – and run the intermediate risks of being wrong.

I Have No Desire to be a “Helicopter Elder” – More Thoughts on Being an Elder in a Changing Pagan and Polytheist Community

Well, we have now come to the last of the topics I have culled from all my notes made at Many Gods West 2017. This last one, I have written about to various degrees already. But I thought it might be interesting to explore this from the perspective of Polytheism added to the Pagan slant that it builds on.

As the Elders of the Pagan community move on, our generation becomes the next Elders. What happens next? How do we nurture the younger generations to help facilitate the necessary change and growth within our varied Pagan communities??

I believe that the entire paragraph is worth looking at by each successive generation of Pagans and Polytheists as time progresses on. For me, this paragraph continues to underline that realization I had last year — being in the Pagan community to one degree or another since 1986, I have become an “Elder”. I certainly hope that I am not looked upon in that manner because I am unsure what it means to be an Elder, aside from the single descriptor of longevity. But honestly, that descriptive measure of time is a large part of what defines the concept of Elder or at least that’s what I have come to comprehend. But this is really not about wearing the “Elder cape” – it is about being helpful to others as they also grow on their own Paths.

First, Pagans are fairly independent folk. Needing nurturing or leadership is not necessary for many. Nor do they need to have someone tell them what they are or not. I watched this play out in a Pagan group when I was stationed in Germany. What was meant to be an umbrella group that encompassed many Pagan beliefs was perverted into being a “Wiccan” circle by one individual, who represented it in this manner to the Air Force chaplaincy at Ramstein Air Base. It made many people upset over the designation and drove a lot of people away from the group. Not all Pagans are Wiccans and that held true for the group. And it holds true here in the present day. So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do?

So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do? Well, I cannot speak from the perspective of anyone other than myself. And to be honest, if you ask five other Pagans this same question when we compare all the answers – we should have nine or ten ways to approach it. So, what I share comes solely from me….

I believe the best way to approach the idea is to encourage people to explore what they are experiencing but with caution. Sometimes, in exploring something, you can place yourself in a dangerous spot. Have someone that can be your anchor. Since my experiences with spirituality will differ from your own, most of the time, I cannot explain what is right or wrong in what you experience or the process that you undertake. I can provide examples of how I would do something, but that is merely how I would approach something.

So, in nurturing younger Pagans and Polytheists on how to move forward in their own Spirituality, I would be available to them to explain my processes, my experiences, and my methodologies. However, being available is different from trying to wedge my way into their practices. The well-worn saying of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” comes to mind. And I am not fond of the “teacher” part of this, as I see myself more as a mentor. I am there to provide advice, and if you trust me enough – I will even gladly be an anchor for you. I am not teaching as much as I am advising. It is still up to you to decide what to do, when, where, and how. For me, this is an ideal way to approach the concept of nurturing the growth of the younger generations of Pagans.

Perhaps, in the future, members of these younger generations of Pagan and Polytheists will step into roles of leadership, teaching, and being Elders, themselves. I certainly hope that I can serve as some kind of example for some of them, just as so many other Pagans and Polytheists out there will also serve as examples of leadership – both positive and negative examples. Yes, the infamous Pagan musician that gets arrested for child porn and has a sullied reputation throughout the wider Pagan community can serve as an example as well as a beloved writer, blogger, musician, Priest or Priestess does. Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for.

Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for. There is no police force for our community, other than ourselves. In order to help our younger Pagans and Polytheists have a safe environment to learn and experience within, as they make a choice of where they will go in their Spiritual growth; we need to know what to look for, as well as what to guard against. Furthermore, we need to also be careful that we do not wind up imitating the insane Witch Hunts of the 1980s that fueled a rabid evangelical Christian base to forcing non-Christians to submit to some aspect of a “character test” to prove they were “fit parents” according to their (the Christians) standards. There is a fine balance between protection and persecution – we (the Pagan community) should be cognizant of that measure, especially as our younger generations begin to come of age.

Honestly, I am not what I consider to be a “leader” of any sort. Emails, text messages, and conversations from many other people tend to prove me wrong on that point. I am not a Presidential figure that stands up and makes statements that every Pagan should hear about. That is one type of leadership. I am available for advice. I am available to just be an ear to bend for others. I am available to talk about my experiences within my Paganism and my Polytheism. I am available for hugs. I am available to stand between you and someone else, barring the way when you need shelter or protection. And while I consider all of that to just be “me being me” – I have come to recognize that it is a form of leadership as well. I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow.

I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow. I dream of a day where being a Pagan and/or Polytheist does not draw a negative stigmatism from the general public. Where being a Pagan or a Polytheist is just as accepted in the wider world society as being a Christian, an Atheist, an Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other faith tends to be. Where living a lifestyle where honoring the Gods openly is not seen as some sign of “mental illness or instability.” And that is not going to happen unless the younger generations to explore what being a Pagan means to them. They will eventually need someone to talk about their experiences, their theories on various subjects – and not be prejudged for what they think. For me, that happens when they are given the room to do just that….and I have no desire to become a “Helicopter Elder”.

1.5 Days at Pantheacon – the Pagan Future and Leadership

Well, Pantheacon 2016 is certainly everything that it has been made out to be…and much more. There are Pagans and Pagan-friendly people EVERYWHERE in this hotel. And its not a small hotel either. There are Pagans of all types here, I’ve met folks of neaarly every Spiritual stripe, and there’s no need to get into sexual orientation, skin pigmentation, hair color or eye color. Because all of that obviously does not matter. Everyone is friendly, smiling, and having fun. And for a people watcher person like me – its an awesome site to see and comprehend.

Seriously. Many people discuss this place like its a wild circus or something. The closest thing that has happened to that – the Krampus revellers that passed by me on Friday night. They were loud…and HAIRY. But it was a seriously fun moment for me. It caught me unawares, while I was eating dinner in the lobby area – and it was just a moment that was out of whack. Flat out fun.

But the one thing that has seriously impressed me is the number of young folks here. And when I mean young people, I mean people below the age of eighteen (or at least seem to be that young). Seeing young people getting involved in their Spirituality, and taking it seriously is heartening to an old fart like myself (who is a spring chicken at 50 when compared to some of the other attendees here). I can definitely see that the younger generation of Pagans are looking for ways to build upon the Paganism that is being offered to them by the older generation (myself included).

And I have met other folks as well. One of the panel security folks that I talked with on Friday night was a former military member – and joined the military after I got out. We talked about how Paganism has been in the military during his term. It was seriously awesome to hear how the military has expanded its awareness of who and what Pagans are – and to some degree have become a little more accepting of this. Essentially, what I was getting a look at was how things have been built upon from the work that I (and others) had done when we were in.

Its that utilization of the building blocks of the Past by those in the Present that really tugs at my heartstrings. These folks don’t have to piece together a Past to build for their Future. They can mold and shape what is already there. And it totally freaks me out to think of myself as an “Elder” or even as a “Leader” of anything. And yet, here I am starting to realize that I am both of those – regardless of what I think.

IMG_0180So far, I have sat in on a few panels. Each presenter has provided their points of view with interesting clarity, sometimes punctuated with bawdy and somewhat irreverent humor. But everyone has been spot on with their messages. From the darker aspects of Druidry to Finding One’s Personal Magick to an academic (and fun) exploration of the Dagda to a wonderful talk on the Welsh Gods and Goddesses, the underlying message is clear – Paganism is alive and well in our modern world society. For some it may not be growing fast enough (or at all) for where they live, for others it may not be growing quite the way that they would wish it to…but rest assured it is alive and well.

That means that some of us (particularly myself) need to get off our asses and step into roles of leadership. That’s a particularly difficult perspective for me – an INFT on the Briggs/Meyers test – to assume. I’m a naturally introverted individual, preferring to handle aspects of my Spirituality as a solitaire practitioner. But, as I am learning – being a leader does not mean that I would be leading rituals.

Let me be honest here, I SUCK at leading rituals with others involved. I am not the greatest at facilitating for others. And I know this. It is something that I will have to work on. And there are two workshops that I chose at this convention that are my first baby-steps in that direction. But there are other ways to be a leader or even a mentor. I can talk with folks that are new to their Path, reassure them that their new found connectedness to the world around them is not some form of mental illness. I can talk about some of the missteps and pitfalls I have encountered on my long strange trip (that its been), and commiserate with those that have stepped in dog-shit elsewhere on the field. I can continue to talk about my Paganism, and my Druidry here on this blog – where others can read it. I can continue to bring the stories of others to the podcast – so people can see that they are not alone. And most importantly, I can stop running from the concept of leadership…I don’t have to be the captain of the boat to be a leader.

I heaar the heavy breathing of the Wolf by my side. I feel the strong grip of the talons on my shoulder. I hear the laughter and sweet whisper of Fliodhas coming from the edge of the forest, enticing me to come and wander through the trees hand-in-hand. But I also grasp the undercurrent of what all three say from time to time – stop hiding in the shadows. Step forward and be what you are supposed to be.

Whether I like the idea or not, I am a leader in this vast Pagan community. And while I have not noticed the younger generation coming to the fireside over the last few years – they are here. And they are watching. And learning. And growing in their Spirituality. My time of resting and being stagnate is over – I either step forward or get out of the game. Stepping forward is where I am headed. What about you??

Paganism: Forty to Fifty Years…Maybe

The Wild Hunt has a featured article on “where Paganism will be in 100 years“. Eight individuals were asked to provide their perspectives, including John Beckett. Now I’ve known John for a while, and his perspective was not that surprising to me. And honestly, its a perspective I can share in to some degree. The other seven folks also had very different views on where the next hundred years will/may take us – the Pagan community – into the unknown future.

I thought this was an interesting exercise, so I have decided to provide my own perspective. Except I am not going to head quite that far down the road. Instead, I am going to aim at a patch of time:  forty-to-fifty years. Why?  Because trying to foresee the future is really difficult stuff. And while one-hundred years makes for an interesting barrier that goes just far enough down the road and past the horizon, for me that’s a bit too far for my failing eyes (thank you, diabetes type-2) to glimpse.

First off, I have no special dispensation on what the future may or may not hold. In fact, I’m nowhere near being enough of a social scientist to even predict fads, trends, and social changes. All of which can factor into how something as personal as religious beliefs and practices can be discerned. In fact, I’ll stop and point out that everything I note here is merely my own jaundiced perception of the immediate future being projected against the back wall of the room while the lights are dim.

I would hope, in my heart of hearts, that human kind would learn to be more caring and favorable to one another. The current election cycle put a claw hammer through the skull of that dream. With politicians bandying about hateful and hurtful remarks against people of a racial or religious background, there’s a lot more territory to cover before that happens. With protest movements continuing to focus on the barriers that divide us, rather than on how removing those barriers changes the focus, I just don’t see where people are going to alter their perception to that of all people being equal, and worthy of respect. That battle, I do believe, will continue to be the same uphill struggle that we currently push against.

Paganism, from a wide-ranging “umbrella” or “big-tent” notation, will continue to grow. I have heard statements tossed around that liken Pagan belief systems as some of the fastest growing segments of religious belief on the face of the planet. Perhaps that is so, perhaps not. But I do see more and more Pagans stepping forward publicly with their beliefs, unafraid of the social stigma that it may or may not carry. I can only see that growing in strength and in numbers. I’ve been a public Pagan for most of my life – just a touch under thirty years now. In the beginning, I was public because I had the protection of being in a closed community – the United States Air Force – where my right to believe and worship as I wished was somewhat protected. I have delighted in Pagans continuing to embrace their beliefs openly, and shed the social stigma attached with Paganism, as if it were merely a straw blanket placed over them. In forty to fifty years? Perhaps Pagans will be in widely viewed jobs, such as television journalism – openly Pagan on the air, and willing to share the same space cordially with non-Pagans. Or, perhaps forty to fifty years might be a touch too soon, and such a change will take place shortly thereafter.

In a political and social environment that seems to value and desires to protect our natural surroundings, I continue to see hope. However, I see change as being far slower than I had imagined it would be fifteen years ago. We still have a major segment of the world community that views the Earth as a natural resource to consume and use at their whim, not as a part of the environment that we all make up together. Where will all that be in forty or fifty years? I would hope much further along, but I fear that any major changes won’t be made until we have done irreparable damage to our relationship with Mother Earth.

Medicine Wheel
Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

There were a few points made about Temples and Sacred Space – particularly that it will come quickly, and that our overall world community would embrace such locations for the religious aspects that they bring. In all my traveling around the United States over the past three years, I have only seen one location that was held up for its sacredness. That was Medicine Wheel in the Wyoming Bighorn Forest, near Medicine Mountain. And when I visited, in the middle of Summer, I was one of three people there. Not much of a visited place, other than by the local First Nations’ tribes that utilized it for their own ceremonies. Other places, such as Glacier National Park, the Badlands, and Mesa Verde – had the feel of a tourist attraction, rather than the sacred locations that they are. I am left to wonder, in forty to fifty years, will the attitude towards such places change? Would building temples to the Gods attract the believers or would it attract the sight-seekers with their selfie sticks, merely there to take a photo proving they were there? I am not completely sure, which of those would truly took hold in that time span, much less within the next one-hundred years.

A trail along a cliff face in Mesa Verde

I know. Rereading all of this, it seems a somewhat bleak picture. That perhaps Paganism will not took hold in the rocky soil we are trying to plant it. But surely, I would say that the future of Paganism is quite bright. As more come to know their connectivity to their surrounding environment; how they are not apart from their world as conquerers, users, and abusers — the future for Paganism begins to shine. Where people who choose the path of Paganism can shed their dark cloaks and step out of the shadows, free to be who they are – without fear of reprisal or social stigma. For me, that is what my fight with the United States Air Force in gaining chapel space for Pagan rites was all about. Not to shove my beliefs down someone’s throat. Rather it was about being able to step out into the public light – free to be who I am, without shame or fear. And that, my dear friends and readers, is what the next forty to fifty years will attain. The freedom for those who come after us – the generations yet to step on to the paths of Paganism – to be who they are. And never to fear the burnings, the beatings, the fear or the shame of others. Whatever else I may believe, this I will continue to fight for it to come to fruition. And I know many others will too.