Tag Archives: #TwoPence

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”.

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All Means ALL

I don’t normally dig too deep into politics, or even into everyday events. Which is why you won’t hear me driving too deeply into the Charlottesville mess. At least not directly. Nor will I dig into Donnie’s responses and the lack-luster part of those responses. Because while politics of all kinds of levels touch my life – daily and otherwise – I refuse to let any of that tinge what I am or who I am. I don’t really care about race arguments, debates, and fights – not because I’m thrilled with being a white male with privilege. But because I refuse to join in on the label game. For me, people are people. We should all be treated equally – in life, how the law is applied to us, how we are taxed…what have you. We treat one another differently, in my opinion, because we are taught to do so. We are conditioned into a variety of ways to not only see differences between one another, but to also glorify those differences in any manner that we can.

I like to call this the “Us v. Them” complex. We want to be different than everyone else. We want to stand out. We want to be noticed immediately as being different. We want privilege to automatically apply because of those differences. Sometimes, we want to set the standard of what this or what that is. We want to be the epitome of that standard. Or we rebel against the standard by dressing differently, acting differently, talking differently. We want to create our own group where others cannot enter – particularly if they are not like us. We develop these cliques in high school, we continue to create cliques at our churches, our social functions, at work, in college – nearly everywhere we go. We look at those not like us with disdain. Who wants those people for friends? They aren’t the “right” people to be around me.

…and I have talked about this before. We label people. We place everyone into convenient containers that allow us to quickly determine what type of person that individual is or isn’t.

They wear all black clothing, dark lipstick, and makeup that makes their complexion look pale. They smoke clove cigarettes, and wear anklets or bracelets or collars adorned with spikes. Women like that have loose morals. Men like that are aggressive and just prefer to be violent all the time.

Nine Hells, if I followed that advice, which incidentally came directly from my late mother, I wouldn’t have half of the friends that I have now. And I would be missing out on some of the people that I treasure deeply in life today. All because I followed some inane labeling concept of what a person was or wasn’t. But I decided, back when I was in my late teens, that I just didn’t want to be in a world that was so monochrome. Painting people with a broad brush of stereotyping would get me nothing. I would miss out on the Punks that I became friends with. Or the Goths. Or the Preppy types. Or the Rednecks. Or the Loners. The Geeks. The Freaks. The Nerds. The Jocks. All because I let a set of labels and definitions divide me from them.

Sure, there are a few people that fit the stereotype and definitions associated with that. So what? Talking with these people allowed me to see a different side of the world. And you can change all of that into the racial labeling that goes on as well. If I had paid heed to why this person wasn’t worthy to talk to – I would have missed out on some very special friendships that I managed to work with.

Tony – whose name is changed here – was literally a card-carrying neo-Nazi skinhead when I met him. He never had a kind word for me. He even beat the smeg out of me one night. I had nearly given up on the concept of having a semi-intelligent conversation with him. But he eventually he stopped doing things, and asked what my deal was. See, no matter had happened the previous day, when I passed him in the dormitory hallway, I always said “good morning” to him. So, I asked him to come over to the end stairwell, and have a sit, a smoke (he smoked, I didn’t), and a conversation. We talked, we disagreed on a lot of things, we agreed on very few things. Five cigarettes later, we got up, shook hands and went different directions. The next four years there were lots of times to talk. We never changed one another’s minds. I cared about everyone regardless of skin color, he only cared about whites. Twenty-two years later, I ran into him in a bar called The Bomb Factory in Dallas. We talked a bit to catch up, and I asked about the racist attitude. “Dropped it,” he said. “Didn’t fit with what I turned into.” “What’s that?” I asked, literally on the edge of my bar stool. “I became a human being. Everybody’s gotta make their own way on this ball of dirt. You taught me that back at college.”

If I had heeded the labels and definitions that we create for ourselves and within society, I would never have had that conversation with Tony. Was I the one to change him? Nine Hells, no!! Tony changed himself. I only provided a different window for him to look out of. And I honestly doubt I would have ever made a difference, if I spent my time shouting at him, or trying to bash his skull in with my staff. People in Charlottesville didn’t want to talk…they wanted to shout over the other side. Loudest side wins, ya know??

Except that it doesn’t. Simple, plain discussion is what gets heard. REALLY gets heard. All of this started with the desire for the removal of Confederate statues. Absolutely. Let’s remove the statues. Let’s put these things into a museum, where they really belong. Where all of this can be noted for what it is – the adoration of a group of people that decided to step away from the union of the United States over a myriad of differences…the easiest of which to understand was the subjugation of people into a lower class based solely on the pigmentation of their skin. Its not the sole reason for the parting, and to truly understand the reasoning behind the Civil War is a complex, difficult thing. But overt racism was one of those reasons. And there were those that adored these leaders of the Confederacy for just that reason. These statues are the proof of that.

Much like the concentration camps of World War II are still open to the public to tour…these statues need to be set somewhere in a museum so that we don’t forget. Not that we don’t forget who these men were, and what they stood for, but rather for what the statues came to symbolize as our country got further and further from the Civil War. And in that same museum needs to be statues of those who fought for equal rights. Equal rights for blacks. Equal rights for women. Equal rights for all. Because that is the struggle that I keep thinking today is losing the sight of. Instead  of fighting the Civil War all over again….let’s change the narrative to fighting for equality for all. So let’s keep one set of labels:

ALL: which means everyone.

Human Beings:  which replaces all the racial, gender, etc etc labels out there and applies to ALL [see first label].

#TwoPence

Many Gods No Masters – How a T-Shirt Can Lead to Assumption Becoming Communication

Anyone who has ever discussed issues of personal belief, theology, or UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) knows that I will not step up to the edge and peer into the abyss of fundamental belief. I am just not the kind of individual that sees a need to make what I believe and what I experience to be the law of the land. Recently I was challenged over that with a t-shirt that I wear that has the line “Many Gods, No Masters” stenciled on it.

How can you claim to be a polytheist, be claimed by two Gods, and not see Them as your Masters? After all, that’s what the shirt proclaims – that you disrespect what the Gods are.

Ok. I can understand that particular postulation. And there may be a chance that folks associated with where I purchased the t-shirt may believe that as well. I truly cannot speak to that. But for me, that’s not what this t-shirt means. The “Many Gods” part is self explanatory. I am a polytheist, I believe in many Gods. I believe that each of Them are individual entities. I work with Coyote and Crow. I am starting my relationship with Flidais. Ech of Them have Their own demands and expectations of me. Particularly Crow, where I am bonded as a Priest. But none of Them are my Masters (or Mistress if one would apply that in a gender specific aspect for Flidais, but that’s a post for another time). I can walk away from any of Them whenever I choose to do so, just as They can walk away from me anytime They choose to do so. I am compelled by agreeable oath to a stricter relationship with Crow, where stepping away would have to be a far more formal process, but again, none of Them have me slavishly doing Their bidding.

“No Masters” – for me (I must stress this) – means that I have no one compelling me to be a polytheist. I have no middle-man Priest or Preacher that has to stand between me and my Gods and interpret material on Their behalf. I need no intercessor to bring me before the Gods or to tell me what the Gods need from me. And honestly, if anyone ever approached me and told me that Crow commanded me to provide 10% of my income to that individual to show my loyalty or devotion; I may burst a seam from laughing so damn hard. I have no Masters that need to interpret what my Gods require of me. I have no Masters that will compel me to do this action or that task in the name of my Gods. My Gods communicate that directly to me. I have no need of a Master to hold the strings of communication between me and my Gods. Nor am I that intercessor for anyone else. Many Gods, No Masters means that I am capable of handling my relationship between myself and the Gods on my own.

Now, all of that said, this is not me sticking my fingers in the eyes of Christianity or any other belief system that has these Priests and Preachers that do act as intercessors for the masses within those systems. If others have a need for an intermediator within their own beliefs, I see no issue there whatsoever; provided they do not apply their framework to me. Everyone utilizes the framework that works best for them.

Certainly, there is an implication that is set forth by wearing a t-shirt with the statement of “Many Gods No Masters” emblazoned upon it. Just as there is an implication that can be made by the Rainbow-flag sticker I had on my truck (before someone took it upon themselves to peel it off without my permission). But the rainbow flag sticker makes me no less a straight male than a t-shirt stating “No Gods No Masters” implies anything about my relationship with my Gods.

Maybe a t-shirt with a slogan on it or a decal with a rainbow flag helps the receiver of the silent message to find a manner to label or define someone. However, in my mind, prior to applying the final thread to sew those labels into people; perhaps some communication can be made prior to doing so. In our modern society, we draw conclusions on just who people are or aren’t based on their Facebook memes, their Twitter posts, or what decal is on the bumper of their vehicle. A little conversation can go a long way to clarifying things prior to making conclusions on such inane things. And that would be conversation – not debate, not argument, not forcing people to have to defend why they wear these t-shirts or put those decals on their vehicles or why they found the need to post this on their Twitter feed.

Maybe all of this is just my over-reaction to something simple. Or maybe, a lot of this is symptomatic of how out of touch society has become, as we divide ourselves based on politics, religion, skin-color, who we love, what we eat, what we read, and what we listen to. We currently live in the age of information, where communications abilities are more prevalent and quicker than ever before. And despite all of that, we certainly seem to communicate far less than ever before. Perhaps the age of information is not about communications, but rather about freeing folks up to make conclusions and assumptions about people without having to really communicate with them at all.

I certainly hope not…but in the meantime, its time to crank up some Edgar Winter (Free Ride) and enjoy the sweltering Texas heat. Yes indeed, I live in an Easy-Bake Oven.

A Dream For Another Sleep….

Let’s be [x] Pagans. To be a Pagan, you need to do [y]. If you don’t believe [z] then you’re not a Pagan. Or to put it in other terminology…

IF != x THEN NOT “Pagan”

IF y = “This” Then “Pagan” ELSE NOT “Pagan”

If != “Belief” THEN NOT “Pagan”

Yeah, pulling things into programmatic statements seems a little silly, but its there to emphasis a point. Mathematical equations within programming constructs tend to be empirical. A value or variable that is compared against the equation is typically true or false. It makes for awesome usage in a programming statement. But it tends to make for a lousy statement concerning an individual’s belief. But not because a comparative value of one’s beliefs cannot be utilized. Rather, its because of the cold, calculating usage of boiling down an individual’s spiritual experiences into a pile of cold, heartless numbers and equations just to place an individual into a category.

Its no real secret. I hate the concepts of labels. While labels are great descriptives, and can put you into a mindset of what an individual believes in at an extremely basic and simplistic perspective; it propagates the basic desire to make assumptions on what a person is or isn’t. From my perspective (read: opinion), it keeps one lazy in the notion of getting to know someone. It negates conversation, and the exploration of belief with someone else. And for me, an individual that loves experiential moments within life, that negation of interaction loses all of what being alive and connected with the world around me is all about.

Back in the day of the old Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs – and I am completely showing my age here), conversation was mostly sequential. I typed a message. Then someone read it, and formulated a response. I read that response, and replied back. And thus the exchange went on. Occasionally, I would get the chance to meet some of these other folks face-to-face, and we would sit in a pub for hours – talking, eating finger food, and drinking beverages of our own choosing. And those moments were sometimes intense, and sometimes completely silly. But when the end of the night arrived, we exchanged hugs, and eventually started back into our “online” conversations. And while we didn’t meet that often, typically once every three to four months, some of those folks became friends that I would hang out with even more often. Many of these folks are still friends to this day.

Some of them are Wiccans and Witches, some of them are Druids. There’s even a Chassidic Jew, and a handful of very opinionated Atheists in all of that. And not a single one of them even comes close to being an archetypal practitioner of their respective beliefs. All of them are unique individuals, with equally unique opinions, and very distinctive voices. Were I to envision these people under an archetypal impression of what each of them would believe, I would likely not have interacted as greatly or deeply with each of them as I have. And I would have missed out on those experiences, and honestly, I would be less of a person today without the input I got from each of them in conversations that we had.

There are friends that I have on the internet of today – a far more generalized tool of communication than BBSs were back in the day. Some, I have had the chance to have conversations with – both face-to-face and in an online manner. I have found that each of these folks are no less individualized than those I met far earlier in my Pagan Path. Some of them are very close to the archetypes of what they believe. Many others seem to cling to the label, but are far afoot from the archetype. If I were to apply just the label to each of them, I again would find no real connection with them.

So, when I hear/read people within the Pagan-sphere make statements that “Pagans are [x]” or “Christians are [y]” – I cringe inwardly. Many of the statements fall into the area of stereotypes, or if you prefer archetypes. And laying empirical statements concerning an individual’s faith is, in my experience, almost certainly a recipe for a landmine to step upon. A short examination sometimes yields that the archetypal statement, while true to some extent, certainly does not represent the individual as a whole. After all, a person’s Spirituality and how they approach the Divine, is only a small variable in the summation of who they are as a person. And I have always found reasons to celebrate what a person is in their chosen approach to their Spirituality. My only moment of revulsion seems to come from those that feel their Spiritual approach is good for everyone.

Perhaps, this is where I tend to clash with others. I follow an approach that what you do in Life works best for you. We might walk a similar Path, or we might be on completely different highways headed in completely different directions for completely different reasons. But your Path is yours to walk. Your connection to the God(s) is your own to handle, manage, and experience. When you stray from your lane, and believe that I should be driving the same car as you, driving at the same speed as you, headed on the same highway as you, for the same reasons as you – this is where I draw the line. I am driving into the middle of nowhere, so that I can experience the incoming thunderstorm from the middle of a wheat field. You might be headed to a storm shelter because you are seeking shelter from any tornado that spawns from the storm. I’m not going to criticise you for heading to the storm shelter. I can only hope you would do the same for me, as I drive out to the wheat field.

For me, Spirituality is not something that can be boiled down to a variable whose value gets plugged into some equation to prove or disprove the veracity of one’s faith. Spirituality is a connection to the God(s) that each individual will experience differently or sometimes not at all. While I may not completely agree with your experience, I certainly don’t feel any need to denigrate it either. Its merely not how I experience my Spirituality. So long as I am not trying to compel you to believe as I do, or vice versa – we should be able to co-exist near one another with no problem whatsoever. But then again, we are humans. And humans do, for the most part, fear that which they do not understand. My only hope is that we eventually do understand, but that is a dream for another sleep….