The Struggle for Radical Inclusion

I’m getting very tired of hearing other opinions, especially when those opinions are openly against another person’s belief, the color of their skin, the way they dress, what they choose for themselves, or those against an entire religion. Yet, that feels like it’s all I’m surrounded by. And not only am I surrounded by those opinions I know now I have family members with those types of beliefs. And what is worst of all, it is now confirmed that people I chose to be a part of my chosen family and those I looked up to have opinions that demean and belittle others.

Each time I have heard about someone else close to me who has a believe that excludes others, it makes my heart ache. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s a story on the news about things that people are doing against each other, it hurts too. You pray for those affected and do what you can if there are monetary needs or petitions to sign. But when it gets close to home, things get really bad for me. Heartache turns to outright anger, bitterness and a whole hell of a lot of pain. But yet, when the talk from family or friends turns to those sore topics, I have still tried to be civil. I agree to disagree, or bring up reasons why things are not the way the person who is biased claims them to be. Even when my own uncle comes out against others for the color of their skin, I still try to ‘play nice’ for the sake of the family. I still try to listen, to understand, and to get them to understand where I am coming from.

There is a reason I was doing this. The thing is, one of the biggest problems this nation faces today is that we aren’t listening to each other. We aren’t recognizing there is an allowance for differences of opinions. There was a time when being ‘democrat’ or ‘republican’ meant that ideals were different, yet everyone believed in being civil, and both sides strongly felt they were doing the right thing for the nation. There was a time not too far in the past when civil debates could be held without fear and even political candidates stopped their constituents from throwing angry slurs at their opponents during rallies.

But unfortunately, those times are long over.

Today, it’s not just an opinion about whether or not to tax something anymore. Today, the differences of opinion are about large swaths of people and whether or not they have a right to education, a right to live and worship as they choose, or even just a right to exist. And I can understand why those beliefs are held. Some people that hold opinions against others do it out of fear, or they do it out of experiences they have, or they do it because that is what they were taught. And almost always those with the opinions of exclusion don’t think they are doing anything wrong. For example, I was recently told by someone that equality currently exists between a gay couple and a straight couple if the gay couple had at least a couple doctors to go and see. Sure, not all the doctors would be willing to see them because of their ‘christian’ faith, but because they still had a choice of some doctors who would take them as patients it didn’t matter if others wouldn’t see them. I couldn’t help but think if the situation was reversed that they wouldn’t think it was equal, no matter how many times they said they would feel the same way during that conversation.

No matter what it was justified it with, this person was talking about the exclusion of a human being. They were excluding another life, another spirit, another soul. They are excluding another in which, in many different religions, is believed to be that which has been made in a likeness of God – the very God they claim to worship. If that wasn’t bad enough, by excluding that person, many break a second tenant that is said in many different ways based on the specific religion, but basically boils down to ‘do not judge others’.

So here is where, in any conversation with someone whose opinion is being sliced to shreds, the cherry picking begins. Either I’m looking at something the wrong way, or I don’t fully understand the verses being spoken about, or another verse overrides what verses or holy books I’m quoting from. It doesn’t matter. In my personal belief system a human is still a human, and until they do something that clearly shows they don’t deserve it, respect for who and what they are matters deeply to me.

Automatic respect of others is radical. Automatic respect is the hard road. Recognizing the difference of opinion and accepting it (not approving mind you, but accepting) is ridiculously hard, especially in this polarized nation. But it’s what I’ve tried to do, time and time again. I’ve recently been in conversations with others that my husband has outright told me he would have immediately quit the conversation and stormed out of the room. Not because he nor I were being disrespected, but because the person was so passionate about their belief that they were right. This person wasn’t an outright hater or excluder, but they certainly were on the slippery slope to allow exclusion to happen and not find it to be wrong.

But I have to admit, even though I do my best, I still get shaken to my core. Recently in the Society for Creative Achronism (SCA), the ruler of a kingdom who has made racist statements on social media elevated a known racist to the highest honor of the kingdom, even while the other members who had a say vetoed the elevation. In another kingdom, months earlier, royalty decided to wear clothing with swastikas clearly sown into the embroidery. And today, I’m forced to recognize yet again that someone in my own household shares radical opinions about Muslims. This is someone who swore an oath to be kind to all, generous with their time, who is known as a caring individual, and yet, it seems to me now that these traits are just part of the ‘game’ that is the SCA, and not what they strive to be in real life. This is truly disheartening and sad.

Unfortunately, because I’m getting hit by this over and over, it makes me wonder about my own personal guidelines on dealing with these people. Do I give more benefit of the doubt than I should? Do I need to follow the example and turn away from anyone who even speaks about exclusion being right, even though it may not be outwardly racist or bigoted? And if I do, doesn’t that just mean that I’m becoming a part of the polarization, and not part of the solution? It breaks my heart that I have to consider these things. I have watched my own parents become bitter as they got older because of the beliefs and actions of others, and swore to myself that I would never become that way; that I would always seek the good in others no matter how hard it was to find, and only quitting if the actions of that person became threatening to me, my friends or loved ones.

Now I don’t know if I have the strength left in me to not be bitter.

But for now, trying to be open is the requirement I have set upon myself, not only as a personal ethical code, but for me, a religious one as well. So I keep trying. I keep listening. I keep trying to get both sides of the story, and try to change others minds when I can. Many are perhaps a lost cause. Probably many more than I’m willing to admit to myself right now. And perhaps there may be need of more distancing myself from those who don’t want to see another side. Perhaps those whose beliefs include exclusion of any kind should be distanced, their businesses not be patronized as much as I had before. And perhaps I withdrawal from the SCA even further than I have previously. And perhaps these things aren’t being done on my part out of malice or anger. Perhaps I simply need to do them for my own sanity. Perhaps then I might have more mental energy to engage someone who might actually listen and come to understand.

I can still hope.

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Living My Pagan Truth

I like having a lot of different pagan authors and bloggers on my social media feeds. There are a lot of ideas and differing opinions and seeing these make me feel like this religion is still very much growing and changing based on the needs of its followers.

At the same time, I don’t like it, because there are a lot of ideas and different opinions.

Sometimes the topics can get me really frustrated, especially when the topics seem to be about things that really have no bearing on what actions can be done on a day to day basis. Don’t get me wrong; they are still important discussions. I simply tend to be much more practical in my thinking than hypothetical. I want to look at things from the perspective of what is happening right now, and how my morals and ethics should be applied to decisions that I make each and every day. So discussions involving Paganism as a whole, interpretations on what the current trends are saying (or not saying) and what paganism is going to look like and/or how we are going to get there are interesting, but I don’t tend to get involved in them.

It does make me wonder however, if we are spending too much time discussing philosophical concepts and scenarios and not enough time discussing day to day thoughts and issues. Many of the thoughts I get from blogs and the community seem to me to distance their practices from their daily life. We talk about futuristic societies and how communities will learn to get by when they rely on their neighbors and trade for goods. We talk about how corporations as a whole are just in it for the shareholder value, and how they destroy our earth. We rail against the fact that a solid part of the population doesn’t have the means to get by from day to day. These are all good subjects, and needed conversation, but is it too much discussion and not enough action? I fully believe we need to stretch our minds and consider issues, vent when we need to, and I’ll absolutely read and ponder, but it doesn’t feel to me like the current conversation is going to bring any conclusions that can be immediately acted upon. The one thing I know about me is that I am a person who wants to act on things to make them better; not just ponder and hypothesize. And when actions do get discussed, they are usually about the “We” as a group and not what “I” can do.

Extreme solutions
There are extreme solutions that some can already live out. I know pagans who are trying to live by cash alone as they don’t want to borrow money. I know others who are trying to not have a digital footprint and still others who recycle everything and live carbon neutral. These are all very worthy and I applaud those who have made it their life’s work to live to those standards. But it very much is a life’s work as this society doesn’t make it easy to do any of those things. I would also imagine there is no free time. I expect the people that live this way have to work very hard each day in order to live, and it’s a very hard life with very little niceties thrown in.

One part of me wonders why I, who profess to be pagan, am not trying to do the same thing. And then the practical part of me says that none of these things are possible for me; some because I already have a digital footprint and debt to pay off. Therefore I still need to hold down an actual job, cannot walk to work as it’s too far and I still need to buy things to work and live. I also have medical conditions that require vigilant care and cost lots of money. And while I do have a nice size garden, and the hubby is a blacksmith, I’m far from being self sustainable.

As much as I’d like to live in a world where I could work for my food and have a roof over my head and trade for the things I need, society as a whole is simply not set up that way. And it would take loads of money to just get something like that started here in the United States (not to mention cash the taxes on land that need to be continuously paid.) And oh yeah, we don’t have healthcare for all, so there is more money that’s needed for those pesky medical conditions.

Can we strive to build toward something like that? It’s very possible! But I see it more working out in retirement by living off savings built throughout working careers – at least for my husband and I. Others could be living in different situations that would make it more doable, but I’m established now. And being established has made me realize I can give more back to the pagan community now that I’m established than I could by trying to uproot and live in a religious group.

So if I’m not contributing to some sort of group effort and am not going to the extreme like others do, then how do I live my pagan truth?

Corporations
Well, some may consider me not living as a true pagan. Some would forgive the fact that we can’t live in an extreme in today’s society, but that I’m still suspect because I’ve violated some universal pagan identity.

I work for a large corporation.

The same pagans that I respect and care about also rant and rail about those that they do (or don’t) work for. Corporations are the worst. They are out to stick it to the little guy. They don’t care about anything but the bottom line. I get the feeling a lot that there are those that believe if you are working for a corporation and aren’t angry about having to do it it, perhaps your morals are skewed.

To be honest, I LIKE where I work. Yes, it’s a corporation. Yes, it’s about the bottom line and about how much we sell. But the product that we do sell helps people – in fact, it’s used in surgeries to help people get better. To me, that isn’t all bad.

Before I worked here, I worked for an automaker. I helped to make people smile because they liked looking at shiny new vehicles and collect pictures of them. I also helped people get from place to place. Was the corporation’s main focus about the bottom line? Yep. But there were still things about the job that as a whole, helped others in some form or fashion.

Don’t get me wrong, if I needed to be replaced, I could be replaced – easily. But that is the nature of the corporation. What people don’t realize is that each replacement also costs the company thousands of dollars in hiring, training and new benefit and tax costs. So even being replaced has it’s trade offs.

There is significant concern in this day and age though about corporations stepping outside their boundaries. They lobby for lax tax and environmental laws, and that is a very good point. And there I feel it is my duty to say something – to vote, tell my representatives how I feel about that so they can push back, and to donate to causes that will help fight back. But overall, I am not going to decide that each and every corporation is bad because of the work of some of them. Just like not every pagan is bad because we have a few problems with bad people occasionally.

One last thing about corporations. A lot of people don’t care for the fact that there are few people in the world who seem to have all of the wealth and money (read power). But that is how it’s been in many cases in history. I’d rather be concerned with what I can do when those corporations abuse their employees (vote with my money) than to try to overthrow the entire societal structure.

My Own Actions
There was a story about a man walking along the beach that was full of starfish. He’d walk by one, pick it up, and throw it into the water. Another man saw him doing so and asked him why he was wasting his time because he could never save all of the starfish from dying. And as he picked up another starfish and proceeded to toss it into the sea, he said, “I made a difference to this one.”

I have come to terms with the fact that there will always be something else you can do better to promote paganism and to live within your personal truths. But until I find that thing to do better, I’m going to do the best I can with what I have.

• I am going to do my best to touch the lives of those I meet by being compassionate, kind, fair and honest. That also means if I am asked what my religion is, I’m going to be honest and speak about it.

• I am going to do the best I can for this earth by continuing to recycle, reduce my waste and carbon footprint, and pick up trash when I can.

• And since I spend 45 hours a week there and employees (and managers) are people too, I’m going to do my best to be a good employee. Because being a good employee helps touch the lives of everyone else you work with and helps make their lives easier. And even though overall my work will affected the corporation’s bottom line, it also helps people. So by doing my best to be a good employee, I will also be doing my best to help people who use the product. And, if it ever becomes a situation where I find the money the corporation makes is more important to my upper management than the people, I will choose to find someplace else to work.

• I am going to take care of myself the best way I know how, in every aspect of self care that I need. Because how can I help others if I don’ t help myself first?

• I am going to do what I can to vote by the money I spend. I will speak to my representatives when I see serious injustice and help take care and protect my family and friends.

• I am going to do my best to serve the pagan community by speaking where I am guided to, teach when I am asked and guided to, comfort and listen when I am asked to and to use my skills and gifts to help others as is asked and is needed.

• I am going to do my best to honor my ancestors, my Gods and Goddesses and my allies and spirits. And I will continue to learn how to do this better.

After all that is said and done, the only thing that I truly have control over is myself. And as a pagan who focuses significantly on self improvement, this truth rings out over and over again. I can’t change the beliefs of someone else unless the other person chooses to change them. I can’t guide others unless they choose to be guided. And to try to purposefully choose to act with a purpose to only change others beliefs 100% of the time is downright exhausting.

However, if living in my own truth helps someone else find their own, then that is something worth striving for.

I don’t always live these personal truths well, but I keep trying. And in the end, that is all I can do.

Feeling Connections

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

~ Howard Thurman

 

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Over the year that I have been working with Loki, Sigyn and Odin, I have found a happiness that I never thought was possible within religion.  In all of my years as a practicing Christian, I never felt the Christian God the way I feel the ones that I am working with now.  Yes, the Christian God felt alive to me, but I didn’t “feel” like one of “his” children.  Even when I was doing other pagan and Wiccan practices, I never felt so close to the Gods as I do now.  The more devotional things I do for Odin, Sigyn and Loki, the more I feel and hear them.

I wonder if in today’s constant strife regarding the role of religion if this is something that we are lacking.  We see a lot of posts about how and what people think about their Gods, their practice and what other people should or shouldn’t do, but we aren’t seeing many posts about how we FEEL about our Gods.  Perhaps if we looked at how we feel about our Gods, and in turn how they feel about us, we wouldn’t have as much argument.  It doesn’t matter how we find our own ways to get there, but in the end, if you are content with your practice and feel the connections to the Gods, then that connection can be a starting point to reach out to other religions.

My connections to my Gods make me feel alive.  They soothe my soul and make me feel whole.  Odin helps me to understand that I do not know everything, and that I have a long road to get to the level of understanding that I want to be at.  He recognizes that I have value in who I am and in what I do, and that I’m not afraid of going outside that which I know in order to get something done, especially in his honor.

My connection to Loki is one that is very hard to describe.  I feel his passion and fire within me, and that has gotten me through rough times, especially when I am having a hard time with my chronic pain.  Loki also helps me learn to accept all of myself.  This includes those pieces of me that I feel are less than desirable.  I’m allowed to be angry, I’m allowed to dislike things.  But I am also allowed to recognize those feelings but that I don’t have to DO anything about them.  I can let things go as they may; I don’t have to make everything right for everyone, or even for myself.  And while I am not constantly on the lookout for the rug to be pulled out from under me in some aspect of my life, I recognize that it may happen.  And when it does, I am enough to do whatever it is that is needed to make the best out of the situation.

Sigyn is a much deeper lady than anyone gives her credit for.  To know her is to know that there are other aspects of her that she does not show to many.  She is the consoler, but she also does not let people shirk their duties because of their pain.  She asks of you to do what it is you can, to find the limit and work to it, then to recognize that that is enough.  Some days those limits are higher than others.  Sometimes they are much lower.  Either way, that is OK.  She also teaches that once you have met the limit, Rest for your body and for your soul is always necessary.   She is the champion of us who have chronic illness, a lady of quiet wisdom and strength, and a child of wonder and awe.  She is someone you must sit with for a time as she must know you before she opens herself to you.

Some readers may also remember that I am the holder of a medicine pipe of Native American traditions.  This relationship too has been solidified over the year.  I am not as afraid as I once was of the power that likes within the sumac and pipestone.  Instead, I recognize that its purpose is to help heal and teach those who are within its influence.  Ceremonies with the pipe are not things that happen often, but when they do, they will need to be done very carefully and purposefully.  And even when the pipe is in its bags, proper respect is still expected.  I find myself still giving offerings to it whenever I feel it is necessary.  Finally, the pipe doesn’t have to be out to speak.  It will speak to whomever it needs to, whenever the time is right.

A year ago I made pacts with these Gods that I would renew within a year and a day so long as they still wanted me, and I still felt comfortable with them.  Now I recognize that the connections that I have made with them will last much, much longer.  And I am absolutely OK with this.  It feels so nice to finally find a home.  It just took me throwing out some of the things that others taught and feeling my way through my own truth.

Perhaps speaking about these connections will help others speak about their own feelings regarding their relationships with the Gods.  Perhaps they will think on how they feel, and recognize that we all have a common starting point; the joy and comfort the Gods bring as well as the continuous lessons that we receive on a day to day basis.  I don’t expect this post to change all that.  But it might get some people thinking at least about expressing their own connections to divinity.  And even if it doesn’t, I’m still happy at the fact that I can express the relationships that I have had a hand in making for myself.

Photo from Deviant Art.

The Importance of Limits

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As I go throughout my life, I recognize more and more that I need limits.  Not only are they important in my physical life and in dealings with other people, but they are important in my spiritual life as well.

I am not the type of person to shy away from a challenge, especially when it pertains to my self-improvement.  I’ve done a lot of things toward the goal of making myself a better person over the years.  I’ve lost significant amounts of weight, quit smoking, quit eating things that were bad for me or that I was allergic to.   (I know that one is a given, but I know family members who refuse to give things up, even when they know it hurts them!) I’ve changed my demeanor to the point that I have had people who haven’t seen me for a while come up to me and tell me I am a totally different person than what they knew before.  The changes aren’t being driven from the outside.  Instead, I’ve always wondered how far I can push myself to change, and to see what those changes would do for me.

Self improvement is one of the very basic things that I believe the Gods want us to do in this lifetime; we have to deal with the things that we are given, deal with the things that we have done to ourselves, and of course, deal with the stuff that others do.  We have to get through all of this in order to get to the nature of who it is we are as human beings.  It is only then that we see the gifts that the Gods give us to use in service to ourselves and others.

To that end, I believe the Gods take an active role in pushing you further in this life.  They are going to give you opportunities to come to terms with things that are going on.  They are going to give you opportunities to deal with roadblocks you put in your own way.  And as a reward, they are going to give you keys to the different gifts that you hold inside of yourself.  And the more you push yourself, the more the Gods will push you to go deeper into your spiritual path.  In the end, what you do makes you better equiped to do their will on this planet.  It’s never more than you can handle, but they still give as much as you think you can take.

That’s where the limits come in.

I’m recognizing the days of ‘overhauling’ my personal nature are pretty much over.  At 41, I’m finally recognizing that I am enough, and that a lot of the mistakes, abuse and issues from my past are now dealt with.  And if they aren’t dealt with now, they are at least on their way to becoming dealt with.  But for a while there, I still kept piling on projects like I still needed a lot more work, and the Gods reciprocated by opening up other doors of possibility for me.

Finally, a couple months ago, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with stuff.  .  A friend of mine, after hearing about how in conversations with my Gods I was told about these possibilities, said to me that it was OK to say no.  That thought had never occurred to me before.  Say no to a God?  Seriously?

It took me some time to realize it was true.  And it’s all a part of self-care that I needed to do for myself now.

Now I understand.  My Gods want me to say ‘no’ from time to time.  It helps them know that I am putting my self-care first, something that is very important because of the physical maladies that I have to deal with on a day to day basis.  They want me to know that I can stand up for myself, whether it be to them or to someone else who is either imposing on my time or causing me undue stress and harm.

I have a bet too, that I’m not the only one that needs to say ‘no’ occasionally.  Gods, especially those in the Norse pantheon, don’t want us to bow and venerate them all of the time.  They want us to work with them, both to make ourselves better and to make this world a better place.  But the only way we can effectively enter a relationship with them and do that is if we are honest about our own limits.  It’s weird to think that we can say ‘no’, as I know many who worship in pantheist traditions don’t think that they can.  And those of us who were brought up in said traditions immediately carry that mindset of not being able to say ‘no’ to their polytheist practice.

Now that I have accepted it, I realize setting limits needs to happen frequently, and we need to be aware that they change.  As a sufferer of fibromyalgia, I am constantly reviewing my efforts to stay active.  And that means that if I want to pursue one activity, another one is going to suffer.  I have to be OK with that.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to drop the activity that suffers, but it does mean that it needs to go on hold for awhile.  This is the same with my spiritual practices.  I can’t spend an hour each day on practicing and reviewing the runes while also wanting to do a significant meditation practice and build a better spiritual gardening practice.  All of that takes time and energy, and with fibro, both of those are significantly limited.

Especially as we start to journey toward the Autumnal Equinox, I find my spiritual practices going back to focusing on balance.  Limits need to be created and maintained in order to find that balance.  We still aren’t through this extensive year of work yet; and I expect the next months until year’s end are going to be very productive on many different levels.  Reviewing and redefining my limits right now are going to go a long way to getting myself ready for the work ahead.

Photo from Deviant Art

Science doesn’t know it all. Neither does Religion.

This weekend I got into a very minor debate with my father that shook me big time.

I found out that my father has become a creationist.

As in dinosaurs and humans existed together.  As in Noah’s ark is real (they’ve done studies, don’t you know).  As in the earth is only 6,000 years old.  Yep.  He’s a big time creationist.

Holy Crap.

Part of me finds it slightly amusing.   I was sent to a Catholic school by my parents.  And in that Catholic school the history of the earth that I learned about didn’t have a drop of creationist belief in it. But yet, this past Sunday, for a few minutes (until I was able to change the subject at least), I ended up arguing with a man who was trying to debunk the very stuff that I had learned from that religious school he had sent me to.

The rest of me that isn’t amused is just in shock.  Growing up I looked to my father as being an intelligent person.  I thought that he shared the same beliefs as I did when it came to the origins of the universe and the creation of Earth.  I thought we at least had one thing in common.  I found out I was wrong.

I firmly believe that science and faith go hand in hand and enhance the other.  Sciences tells us the ‘how’ about the origins of the universe, and religion (or faith in a religion) tells us the ‘why’.  They were never supposed to be exact duplicates of each other.  This wonderful universe has been set before us to explore.  We are to continue to learn how it works and how it evolved from the very beginning of time.  But no matter what science puts together to say how it happened, it is only part of the picture of its evolution.  The other half is the faith that evolution was done by whatever God you believe in.  Or, from a humanist / atheist perspective, the other half is the faith that the universe evolved on its own without divine interference.  Either of these still completes the full picture.

Furthermore, you absolutely cannot try to utilize one side to explain the other.  Science will never fully explain why we are so enamored with religion or have faith in things that are scientifically unexplained.  Religion will never explain why we choose to pursue scientific concepts.  It will never explain those scientific concepts or how things were created.  And most importantly, religion will never quash the desire to understand how we ended up here in the first place or how the world works.

Of course, my father nor my mother wanted to hear my belief.  Instead my father ranted about how science cannot duplicate the human eyeball and that we have never found a half ape/half human.  My poor husband, dealing with a migraine from the on-and-off thunderstorms that had blown through the area that day just sat there listening to the rant while holding his head in his hands.  I could tell he was forcefully holding himself back from ripping holes in everything my father said for the sake of keeping the peace, and it wasn’t doing much to help his migraine.

I honestly don’t know what is going on with my parents.  I live in a different state from them, and am not in frequent touch because of things exactly like this.  This discussion just tells me that I may be forced to make visits even less frequent than I have been doing, as I suspect that their beliefs  are only going to become more strict and conservative as time goes on.  I hate to say it, but that scares me.   I don’t want to be fully cut off from them, but if it is going to come down to the only relationship that I have becoming a very unhealthy one, I’m going to have to do just that.

The fact that I believe that religion nor science has the whole story is also something that I’m not about to push on my parents, nor anyone else.  That is my belief.  It makes sense to me.  If it makes sense to someone else, they are more than welcome to use the information to expand their own knowledge and make it fit for themselves.  If someone wants to discuss something different and share their own belief with me, that is perfectly acceptable, but I have the right to say that I disagree, and I have a right to my opinion.  And that is the crux of the issue here.

And for the record, I don’t care if you build an Ark.  Just don’t use tax money to do it.  There is a reason separation of church and state exists.  And don’t expect building it will recruit people to your own religion either.  Everyone is allowed to make up their own mind about religion and science, just like I did.

So yes Dad, I will accept your beliefs. But even though I will respect your belief about religion, don’t think I’m going to allow you to rant and rave to try and ‘ force-recruit’ me to your way of thinking, even though you are my father.  And if you share your opinion, you better be ready to listen to mine and not just ignore it.

Photo from Deviant Art

Winds of Change (Again)

The only thing that is constant in this life is change.

11 years ago, I attended my first Pennsic as a member of an armored combat unit.  Pennsic is an event of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval reenactment group.  This particular event has been running for 45 years now.

The difference between this event and others is that Pennsic runs for a full two weeks, and is a war between two kingdoms.  So for one of these weeks, roughly 2,000 fighters go out in full armor almost every day and ‘fight’ this war –  by beating the hell out of each other with rattan sticks.

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The Kingdom of the East moving in for the Field Battle – Photo from the East Kingdom Gazette

Oh there are rules to this form of combat – specific armor requirements, specific places on the body you can and cannot hit, specific rules on how large the rattan weapons can be, and plenty of marshals out on the field watching to ensure that no one gets hurt.  But it is combat nonetheless.  And there is a lot of energy being expended in combat, especially when it is on the same field 45 years in a row with 2,000 or more people fighting almost every year.

So being in that first fight was a HUGE catalyst of change for me.

First, there was physical change.  I faced my fear by being out there.  I recognized I had more control over my body than I ever realized.  I didn’t throw up, even though I wanted to.  I didn’t allow my fear to show on my face, and I actually was able to function in the battle, even though I was scared as hell.  There too were also physical changes.  I met my husband on that battlefield, and fought alongside him in that first battle.  Once we started dating, I moved to another state, took another job and ended up purchasing a home in order to be close to him.

Mentally, I found that I had wells of strength within me that I never knew I had.  And those wells of strength have never gone dry, even in the years since that first battle.  I’ve relied on that strength to push me through lots of life changes as well as to learn to heal from issues in my past.  And what surprised me even more was after I got off that battlefield, I recognized that doors opened in my mind that allowed me to recognize what it was I needed to heal from.

Finally, there was a spiritual aspect to those battles.  By claiming my strength and pushing myself I found I had learned new skills I to protect and take care of myself.  Those skills have also served me well.  They have given me confidence that I can handle things that have been thrown at me.  I think the Gods saw this that day.  And their response was basically, “So, you have faced your fears, good for you.  Here are some gifts and more work for you to do.”

Pennsic will be starting again this weekend, and again, I will be attending along with over 10,000 people.  I won’t be on the armored combat unit this year; I had to give that up due to the fibromyalgia.  This year however, I’m trying my hand at fencing.  The battles will not be as rigorous, but they will still be just as intense.

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Defending the Castle is very difficult when you are outnumbered – Rapier battle photo from the Pennsic Independent

And as I make my final preparations to go out there, I’m recognizing that I’m having the same feelings as I did 11 years ago, when the winds of change first started to push me into a new direction for my life.  The feeling of being unsettled started this morning, along with my thoughts moving towards reflection of my life and how it could change.  I decided to set up a meeting with a friend to do some divination on the subject, and by doing so all of the feelings that I had started to intensify.  Change is again on the wind.

Perhaps the changes will be battlefield related, like they were 11 years ago.  Perhaps they will be more related to the classes that I intend to take, as Pennsic is a place to explore many interests – not just those related to combat.

It sounds weird that something that started as a game could have such power to be a significant catalyst for change, but I say from experience is absolutely does.  You just have to do your best to be ready.

What I Want To Say to My Christian Family

Last week I helped to bury the patriarch of my extended family.  My Grandfather was a strong, noble, wonderful man who held together all of the extended families with his presence.  If he said ‘be here on this date’, all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would assemble, ready to do whatever it was he wanted.

His burial was a Catholic one, and I once again found myself in the Catholic church of my upbringing.  The funeral home’s services also were Christian in nature as my Grandfather’s faith in the church was just as strong as he was.  Even the Knights of Columbus came to give their respects and held their own special service to commemorate his 50 years of service with them.

The tone of the funeral and it being populated with so many strong christian and Catholic overtones reminded me of one many years earlier, the funeral of my great-grandmother.   Weeks before my great-grandmother’s funeral, I had come out to my parents as being pagan.  At that time they didn’t say much about it, but instead chose to unleash their anger at me on the drive home from my great-grandmother’s funeral.  I remember that drive vividly, as it was filled with my mother’s tears and ranting.  Specifically aimed at me, my mother ranted about how my great-grandmother, also a devout Catholic, had shown such unwavering faith in her religion, and how dare I belittle her by not following suit with my own faith.

This recent funeral didn’t come with the same yelling, but it did come with a deep silence that felt like an uncrossable chasm between my family and I.  In the end, no one took notice of my half-hearted attempt at mumbling through the remembered prayers of my childhood. And the not going up to communion was still easily explained at the fact that I cannot eat wheat without getting violently sick.  That isn’t what I wanted though.  I would have much rather had a long conversation with them about what I believe and why, and how the values and morals that I carry in my heart are so much like their own, even though we do pray to different Gods.

I wanted so badly to explain to them that my desire to better myself and help others around me steers my life and is based in my beliefs, even though there is no bible that dictates it.  I wanted to tell them that they would be proud of me, because I don’t just speak of my beliefs on Sundays and on events like this, but instead I speak of my Gods on a daily basis, and am constantly in a state of communication with them, allowing them to guide my actions as they see fit.  I wanted very much for them to see that the faith that they yelled at me years ago for not having is there and is so much stronger than I ever thought it would be.

I wanted to say how much I pray; how often I give offerings, not only things like what is dictated by the Christian church, but yet I give so much more than that and included volunteering, prayers for the dead, prayers and blessings for those around me and actions to help this earth that we all live on.  How I wanted to explain that each of my offerings came directly from my heart and was because I felt it was needed, not dictated by Christian doctrine.

I wanted to say I didn’t need the bible to give me comfort in the loss of my Grandfather. I wanted to explain to them that I knew he was home, and that no bible was needed to explain that to me.  And most importantly, I wanted to say I knew that someday we would all see him again, regardless of what we believed, how ‘good’ we were at ‘repenting’, or what religion we claimed to be.

In the end, I didn’t say those things.  I’ve given up on the idea that my parents or my sisters would understand me.  Instead, my family is more comforted in their beliefs that  I am an atheist, because this ‘pagan’ ideal is much to hard for them to understand.

So the silence still remains.  And I grieve the loss of my Grandfather alone.  I have learned to leave the silence in place, as every time I have tried to cross that uncomfortable quiet I am struck down.  I am silenced by them again and again because my beliefs do not come from a book, nor do my beliefs need someone else to validate them for me.

In the end, I am stronger for what I believe, and I know this.  But it doesn’t stop me from wishing for that one day to come when I can talk to them and help them understand.  But I guess that will just have to wait for the time when we are all on the other side of the veil.