Cutting the Tightrope or How I Learned to Be One Person

How do you balance your personal life with your spiritual life?

It is an interesting question, and typically not one I receive from Pagan-type folk. Mostly, I hear this a lot from people who have recently found out that I am a Pagan,  Polytheist, a Druid, or even a Priest of Crow. My short, flippant answer is that I try my very best to not compartmentalize my life. The truth of the matter is that I do not always succeed at that process, but I do try my best. Perhaps, and I am just guessing here, a lot of this comes from a disconnect between the way that I live my life and the manner in which I suppose the average Christian lives theirs. So I figured this would be an interesting moment of exploration, so let us see where this deer trod may lead us.

Before I get started too far down this line, let me caution you a bit. I am about to make some generalizations about some aspects of what I believe is the typical Christian adherent. This is not to say that every single Christian is this way, merely what I have observed as both a former practitioner of the Catholic and Southern Baptist sects, as well as that of a sometimes interested outside observer. My intention is not to find any manner to insult people of this faith, but to draw some contrasts between how I approach my own personal Spirituality and how I have perceived the Christian faith being approached. Now with that bit of business out of the way…

There are three areas that I have managed to denote some differences – utilizing compartmentalization, approaching the God(s), and finding interconnectivity. I am sure, if I tried really hard, I could find a metric ton of other aspects to compare and contrast. But I am not trying to write a book here. Merely trying to bring up some discussion points or food for thought.

Compartmentalizing

So, I will start with my original statement. I try my very best to not compartmentalize my life. What this means, is that I try my very best to not separate aspects of my life from each aspect. My Druidry, my belief in the Gods as individual distinct Beings, my professional life, my personal life, my strong belief in Animism – all of that combines together to form who I am today. An easy form of defense is to ensure that none of these flows too deeply into another by separating each element into its own aspect. I see a lot of this in both Pagan and Christian practices. In fact, I used to practice this quite deeply. I would not talk about my professional life with Pagans, and not talk about Spiritual beliefs with those I worked with. What I wound up with was two very different versions of me, which I had trouble reconciling in my own mind. In Christian practice, I see a lot of this put into practice. People would live their own lives in their own way, and suddenly slip on the Spiritual personae when they came to church on Sundays and Wednesday nights. They would save their very best clothes for when they came to church and practice manners and compassion solely on those days. As if their beliefs were something that can be turned on and off by a switch on the wall. And in a manner of speaking, this was how I was living my life. Once I removed this and started to live my Spiritual life “out loud”, I started to find how other things started to fall into place. I will get to this in a bit more detail in the section on interconnectivity.

Approaching the God(s)

Most of my work with my Gods comes through meditation and dream-work. I spend time out in my backyard stone circle praying nearly every day. Many times, I have had Christian folks shocked by that admission. Prayer belongs to the Christian faith, right? Wrong. I use prayer to ask for guidance from Crow, Coyote, and several others when it comes to my daily life. The final choices of how I proceed are still mine. My Gods do not force me down a Path because of some destined fate, but regardless I do seek Their counsel from time to time. In a manner of speaking, this differs from what I have managed to observe of some of the Christian adherents. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all apparently a set of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where a personal need is prayed for. I need this. I want this. I have been faithful to you, please provide me with this. but to be fair, I have also observed some of the Christian faith utilizing prayer to seek guidance from their God or His chosen Savior. No need for a set of shiny prizes to drop from the slot because a faith-coin was deposited in the slot and the handle cranked. Just simple desire to have some form of guidance for their lives. Granted, there is still a measure of one’s personal destiny to be followed, slavishly in some instances like the “Hero’s Journey” in the writings of Joseph Campbell. First, this happens, followed by this, and resulting in this. Step by step instructions, if you will. I am sure that there are some things that my Gods guide me towards, as my hands are the tools necessary to accomplish something on this plane of existence. But the only destiny I have, the only journey I walk, follows the choices I make as to which Path I see as correct in my life at that moment. Sometimes, those are bad choices….and I learn from that. Which, for me, is the essence of life – to keep learning and experiencing.

Interconnectivity

I make no secret about what I do for a living. I work as an Institutional Researcher for a small two-year college. In short, I handle the statistics generated by the students’ activities within the college. I report this information to the US federal government and the state of Texas’ Departments of Education. This usually gets most people to cross their eyes trying to understand the concept, so I tend to fall back to a more generic explanation – I am a Data Science Researcher. My job requires an ability to converse with database systems, as well as utilize statistical programs that parse data into information. When I finally stopped setting my life in small containers (compartmentalizing) and really allowed the conceptual aspects of my Druidry to help inform my daily life, my analysis of that information started to be altered. See, Druidry is about connections for me.

A few years back, I took a year-long study course with Cat Treadwell, and the lessons contained within that program really showcased the ideas of connection for me. Where does my food come from? How can I see the changes in the season by the world around me? Well, every day I drive a small county rod to work, which brings me between two pastures. On either side of the road, I got to see new calves shortly after their birth as well as their growth over the course of the year. I watched the fields change as the cycle of the year wore on. And my eyes were opened to some smaller measures of connectivity I had not noticed before.

In my work, over the last two years, I have watched a similar cycle of growth, change, and connectivity. New students come to the college and start their education. Through my statistics, I can mark groups of students for further study, and see the cycle of their lives. Some students blaze through their programs, some have the number of classes wax and wane through the semesters – obviously trying to balance their personal life with the desire to advance their education. Some struggle with mathematics classes. And eventually, they transfer to a four-year institution, graduate with a degree or certificate, or stop their educational advancement altogether. As I have watched and studied group after group after group, I have seen trends which I want to analyze a bit deeper, as I see potential areas of connectivity. I attribute this to my Druidry, which helps me visualize so many of the strands taking place in the data before me. My Druidry also informs me that every single number is a student – a person – whose story is unfolding before my very eyes.

Certainly, I am not trying to tell anyone how to live their life nor how to approach their own concepts and understanding of Spirituality. What I write here is the result of nearly thirty-two years of being a Pagan. There were plenty of missteps, lots of wrong turns, and a countless number of holes in the Path that turned my ankle. if your desire is to find a belief system that provides step-by-step instructions on how to become grounded within your own faith….good luck with that. One thing I have learned in traveling from the Catholic faith to the Southern Baptist faith into Paganism (in its many different aspects that I have tried) is that there is no set of written instructions. Much like taking a walk through woods to enjoy the outdoors, there is no set way to find your own Spiritual Path. If your focus is on the sounds of the birds in the trees, or wanting to listen to the sound of the breeze pushing through the branches of the trees, or wanting to revel in the warmth of the Sun on your skin, or marvel at the wondrous landscapes in front of you-you will find what you are wanting if you have some patience. The same holds true for one’s Spiritually, at least in my experience.

And the Gods? Or God? Or Holy Trinity? Or what have you? Not that long ago, I thought that the Morrigan was calling me to Her battle line. It was not Her. And it was for a far different reason. But when I questioned what She would want with me – a good friend told me: “The Gods call who They call.” Just try your very best not to turn Them into some kind of ATM that spits out presents and gifts based on the greed of your capitalist heart. Not only do the Gods deserve more respect than that, so do you.

And balancing your life between your Druidry (or what have you) and your mundane life? Let the two intersect as deeply as you are able to. You will find yourself having a far richer life when you are not trying to serve two different versions of yourself. But that’s just my opinion. Your mileage will likely vary to one degree or another.

–T /|\

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I am “Woke” – Just Not in the Way You Might Assume

Early in 2017, I started hearing a concept that I had not heard since the first release of the movie “The Matrix” — being ‘woke’. Back in 1999, it referred to the status of human beings like the main character Neo, who had been removed from their connection to the Matrix environment created by the machines, and were now aware of the true reality of the Earth and human beings. However, the term was not being used in that context, and seemingly meant something different. Being curious about it, I decided to try and find a definition of what this new terminology might mean. Eventually, I found that it applied to some of the aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement, but had been branching into other areas from there. A quick check of Urban Dictionary found a handful of descriptives:

  • A state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.
  • Although an incorrect tense of awake, a reference to how people should be aware of current affairs.
  • Knowing what is going on in the community.
  • Being completely deranged, hysterical and seeing racism/oppression in virtually everything.
  • Being aware of the social. and political environments regarding all demographics and socio-economic standings.

…and the list goes on and on. Utilizing Urban Dictionary’s perspectives, being “woke” aims towards political and socio-economic statuses, being aware of how various aspects of society press against a perceived state of equality for all.

Now, most folks know, I have my own political stance in life. It bleeds through in everything I do – blogging, talking, working, reading – because it is part of who I am and what I believe. I hold no allegiance to either of the major parties within the United States. Rather, I see validity on both sides of that equation, as well as what I consider to be idiocy from both sides as well. Thus, I hold no party affiliation, as neither of the two major parties – or even the smaller third-parties for that matter – really speak to how I perceive the world around me. I have been told that my non-affiliated stance only means that I am not seeing the world as it should be – by both staunch Republicans and Democrats that I know. To be honest, I am not arrogant enough to believe that what I perceive and what I believe is correct for anyone else, other than myself. And here in the United States, I am merely one of many, all with different and sometimes diametrical opposed ideas of how to proceed and/or process concepts and information.

Perhaps I am not “woke” in the area of politics and socio-economic standards as provided by other “woke” individuals. However, I am very cognizant of the social under-currents within society. I am also aware of how the laws, as applied by some corrupt and morally bankrupt members of law enforcement, can be utilized as a hammer against certain aspects of human society. I am also aware of how our current political system is being utilized by a few to construct a potential society of upper-class individuals that meet a certain requirement of enrollment that subjugates others to work for their benefit alone. Yelling and ranting about it on Facebook, and on Twitter, from my perspective, does very little about the issue – thus I tend to hide political sites, and individuals that tend to post nothing but politics and social memes railing in this manner. Perhaps, that means that I am not “woke” by someone else’s standards. So be it. But then again, I do not live my life for the approval of others.

Sounds rather heartless, right? I can grok that perspective. But if all you know about me is this screed that I am posting here, and you make a final judgment on who I am and what I believe – you are not digging deep enough. If you go back far enough in this blog, you will find posts where I disdain the concept of labeling people. That applies here as well. Essentially, society tends to fall to a grouping of people into two categories: “Us” and “Them”.  The “Us” crowd, we are comfortable with, we grok their perspective, and their ideals line up and fit quite nicely with our own. The “Them” crowd is to be resisted, attacked, and belittled as much as we can. In wars, human beings do this all the time. The Japanese were considered inferior because they could only copy what had been created, not create on their own. The Germans were vilified as blood-thirsty fighters who mindlessly followed their leader towards world domination. All Germans hated the Jews and were thrilled to have the concentration camps around to rid them of these sub-humans. And lists like this can be compiled from the annals of History. The reality is that there were many people in Japanese society who were/are creative and can create new materials. Most of the German citizenry had no idea what was happening within the concentration camps and were horrified to find out the truth when the war unraveled for them. Plus, there were those Germans who tried to find a way to save as many people as they could from being arrested by the Gestapo – risking their own lives to do so. Painting with a broad-brush of generalizations is a lazy way to deal with people who have differences from your own.

So, I will divulge one secret about me. And it is not really a secret, I just do not talk about it that much on social media. I loathe the concepts of ethnic labeling that occurs within our society. The Grants system within the collegiate environments in America is rife with this concept. Entire aspects of funding collegiate education are built around characteristics of race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, and even age. The idea is to “level” the playing field between the “haves” and have-nots”. I get that. I would rather that we fund people’s collegiate education based on the needs of our work-force rather than these factors. I do realize that there are Grants and funding centered around just these things, but I would rather categorize people by their desired field of endeavor than by things such as their gender and skin color. I would prefer to classify people as “human beings” rather than “Black, White, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, International, and Multi-race.” But again, I am just one person. And these classifications are mandated by the Federal government.

Being “woke” tends to be focused on how one perceives and/or agrees with whatever perspective of the individual judging the perspective “woke” person. Again, I do not live my life for the accolades applied by others. I am a Pagan, a Polytheist, and a Druid. I am a Priest of Crow. How I live my life is determined by me. Under the ‘woke” definition from Urban Dictionary is the notations of “how people should be aware of current affairs”, “knowing what is going on in the community”, and “being aware of the social. and political environments regarding all demographics and socio-economic standings.” From my own perspective, I feel that I absolutely do fulfill these aspects of the various definitions. Perhaps, the problem with being labeled as “woke” does not come from any particular meaning of the term, but rather whether your understanding of the issues relating to community, political, and socio-economic standards is in conjunction with the individual labeling you as such. To that, I can only smile to the individual that claims that I am not “woke” and move along. If I am perceived as not being “in-tune” with how politics effects me or how it affects others…that’s all right. If you have ever heard me sing, I’m definitely off-key.

#TwoQuid

–T /|\

Paganism and the Hacker Ethic: A Personal Perspective

If you have read the blog for any considerable amount of time, you know that my job is primarily focused on pulling data from a database – and getting the results ready for usage by various end users. I do this using SQL or Structured Query Language. It is a programming language, and to some measure, it is not. What it is, is a series of commands, set in motion against a framework that allows a database to retrieve requested data sets against a series of criteria – thus making it more of a toolset. My mind, from what I have been told by instructors and fellow Information Technology peers, is built for programming concepts. Loops, logical statements, retrieval arguments, correlating programming language syntax into something closer to Plain Language concepts…all things that come to me rapidly when using or learning a programming language. The terminology typically utilized as having a “programmer’s brain.”

And yes, that mentality gets applied to all kinds of things in real life. Grocery shopping, relationships, watching movies and tv shows, writing papers, taking vacations – everything follows a construct of variables, populating those constructs with data, and then utilizing that data. I have half-jokingly referred to cooking as “food programming”. So it is not much of a stretch for me to come to the world of hacking with a sense of awe and near reverence. But it is not the hacking you think it is.

Most people hear the word “hacking” and they think of the criminal world of the internet’s seedy underbelly. People doing programming tricks to skim half-pennies off of the interest from bank accounts (a popular ply utilized in the movies) or the illegal and unethical area of personal espionage, where people steal identities of others in order to get extended credit lines for nefarious means. There is definitely wizardry and skill utilized in these methodologies, but that’s not hacking. That is “cracking” which breaks the system and allows it to be exploited for unethical reasons. No, hacking is a different area altogether. In hacking, people try to figure out why something works and then seek to improve upon it. And if a security flaw is discovered, a hacker will try and fix the security flaw and report it to the owner of the program. Hacking is about taking something that has already been created, improving upon it, or using it as the basis for creating something new.

From Techopedia:

Hacker ethic primarily states and defines the ethical responsibility of a hacker, within their like-minded community. It was first coined by an American journalist, Steven Levy in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Revolution. Although this belief is highly appreciable within the hackers/hacktivism, it has no moral or ethical values in the general society. Typically, hacker ethics includes that whatever software, program or code a hacker develops must be open source, all the information is decentralized and is freely accessible and the overall knowledge must be shared and passed to other hackers.  (https://www.techopedia.com/definition/19706/hacker-ethic)

This, as a concept related to Information Technology, is something I highly believe in. As a concept related to my own daily life, I try and handle myself as closely as I can to this concept. This includes the way I handle my own daily practice within Paganism and as a Polytheist. I am not a reconstructionist, I am not trying to recreate something from the past. I am also not trying to build something new and full of rules. Thus, the decentralized part of the way I approach my understanding of Paganism. And while my daily approach is mine, and mine alone, I do not believe that I am adding huge amounts to the overall body of knowledge. Merely, the way I approach what I do know of Paganism and Polytheism.

Now, notice, I have not said anything about my Druidry. This is where my desire to live my life as close to the Hacker Ethic gets bumped and bruised – particularly the decentralized authority, freely accessible, and sharing of information. Mystery belief systems will always clash with these aspects of the Hacker Ethic.

Within the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids – the order I freely chose to work within the constructs and precepts of, there are closed aspects of the information that one learns that should not be shared. Initiatory experiences are meant to be experienced when encountered for the first time. Sharing the knowledge of the initiation with individuals who have not had this experience will lessen the power of walking into the unknown. I have done the initiations for both the Bardic and Ovate Grades. Sharing the knowledge of these initiatory experiences would rob others of those exhilarating moments. Just as I am sure that sharing the format, structure, and moments within any other initiatory experience would lessen the experiences of the initiate in other traditions. Also, within OBOD, the lessons for each grade should never be shared outside of the grades either. And for much the same reason. The Path that is walked in each of the grades is for the individual to experience and work with. Sharing those lessons, those experiences will do nothing for the individual traversing through that particular lesson. In a manner of speaking, it is similar to cheating on a classwork test.

Furthermore, the Hacker Ethic recognizes no concept of authoritative leadership. Within many aspects of Paganism, there is recognized aspects of leadership. A High Priest and High Priestess have their positions of leadership. It is not an issue of military command structure, but that leadership does have a degree of deference attached to it. Under the Hacker Ethic, I would have to choose not to recognize that authority within OBOD. And honestly, I cannot do that. I have too much respect for many of these people as individuals, as well as deference to their ability, talent, and tenure on their chosen Path within OBOD.

Give that the Hacker Ethic is a major part of who and what I am, how can I reconcile some of these differences with what I practice within my own Spirituality? Well, to quote Captain Barbossa from the first “Pirates of the Carribean” movie:

And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

And that’s true of the Hacker Ethic as well. At least for me. Violation of any aspect of the Hacker Ethic means that I made a judgment call when I ran across a difference between what I thought to be “right” and what is on display within the Ethic. The idea behind the Hacker Ethic is a set of guidelines meant to advance knowledge around the TX-O and PDP-1 mainframes in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The sharing of information, in this case, programming code instructions, was meant to make the best applications possible for use on those two mainframe systems. The aspects of the Ethic were carried forward into nearly every aspect of life by those who practiced it. The only morality applied to the Ethic is the one embraced by the individual practicing it. And honestly, the morality of an individual writing code in the early 1960s is a far cry from the mercenary and larcenous hearts that were created from the greed and corporate mentality brought about by the rampant consumerism of the 1980s and 1990s.

I am a product of the decadent 1980s; I would never deny that. it definitely took a while for me to shake off the consumerism mentality of my time, and to adopt a different way of seeing the world around me. Paganism, Polytheism, and Druidry have taught me a lot about how to view the world differently, and how to change the concept of what “valuable” really means. Going back to the older ideals of what a hacker really was, as well as stripping away the bombastic image that Hollywood provided for the big and small screen, I came across the concept of the Hacker Ethic. This leads me to the evolving concept of Open Source, which is an off-shoot from the Hacker Ethic – and honestly, a little more evolved conversation within Information Technology. A decided left-turn off the round-about of where this blog sits.

Rest assured, my idea of Paganism is not reconstructive. My concept of Polytheism is one of sharing, discussing, and helping others to try and experience the Gods for themselves. A complete hands-on approach is very deeply held within the Hacker Ethic when it comes to learning and expanding knowledge. My Druidry, on the other hand, does not fit well into this paradigm…and there is no contradiction to that. Guidelines, not rules.

–T /|\