The Day the World Changed

WTCThat day I was running late (as normal) to my medical office manager job.  Luckily, the doctors were running later than I was.

I opened up the office, turned on the local AM radio station the head doctor liked to listen to and started preparing the patient rooms for the patients that were coming in that day.

And as I was getting the ledger ready for the day’s entries, I heard on the radio that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  It sounded like it was a small plane. ‘A Cessna probably,’ I thought and continued my daily work.

Then the announcer started to get more panicked as news started coming in of another plane hitting the World Trade Center.  Then a plane at the Pentagon.  And another plane downed in Pennsylvania.

I can’t remember the order anymore, but I remember the panic in the announcer’s voice.  I remember every one of our patients canceling that day.  I remember sitting in the doctor’s private office with his old TV turned on so that we could see what was going on.  After the office closed for lunch I remember going to a friend’s house so I could continue to see the news coverage.  I remember being in line for gas for over an hour as I tried to get home and thinking that the world was falling down around me.

I remember not being able to sleep that night, and for weeks afterward, without the TV blaring because it was just too quiet and scary.  I remember sitting inches from the television, listening to the president speak words that weren’t in my common vocabulary before, “Al-Qaeda,” “Jihad” and later hearing the name Osama bin Laden.

Even bringing those things out and speaking about them, 17 years later, still hurts.  I still want to cry.  I still want to scream.  I still feel a thickness in my chest that threatens to overcome me.  Perhaps it’s PTSD, perhaps it’s simply the fact that the visions of those towers falling will forever be imprinted in my head, no matter how much I try to get them out.

This year, on this anniversary, I’m already seeing posts about how we shouldn’t have memorial services.  We shouldn’t be marking this day at all because we created these evil people with our Middle East politics in the first place.   Some would rather use this day to rally against the government and its international politics.  Others want us to turn this day into a national day of mourning to honor the heroic dead that died on this day to ensure it stays fresh and can be recalled instantly by every American.

The fact of the matter is, I really don’t give a flying shit about any of those things.  Right now, I simply still just want to grieve. 

I want to grieve for what my nieces and nephews have lost thanks to now necessary extra security measures.

I want to grieve for the pain of loved ones that are missing friends and family that should have come home from work that day.

I want to grieve for my own life changes because on that day I became a little less naive.

I want to cry for the people on that plane, who realized they were going to die no matter what happened, and decided to take it down themselves.

I want to grieve for the unity of the country after the event.  That unity was caused only by the shared pain everyone felt.   We all were willing to pitch in and do what we could to help those that were hurting and try to pick up and get things moving again.  It was comforting, yet upsetting to see all at the same time.

And now, seeing the posts I am, I want to grieve for the loss of that unity as I think now it may truly be dead in this country.

So for today, I really don’t give a shit about why you say we should or should not have memorials and why this happened in the first place.  I don’t care about comparing the number of people dead in wars versus this horrible event in US history.  And I’m certainly not going to respect those who bang a drum of remembrance while saying we should be doing such and such right now because of the heroes that died on this day.  And the people who continue to place fear in hearts and minds that this could happen again because they want to get something passed in Congress can just go to hell.

All I want to do today is fucking grieve.  And try to heal.  Something I’m still trying to do after 17 years.  So just give me the space to keep trying.

 

Photo from Financial Express picture gallery

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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.

Finally Coming to Terms with My Own Paganism

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Lately I’ve come to the realization that my personal pagan theology doesn’t ‘fit’ with anyone else.  I don’t call myself a wiccan, druid, heathen, Lokian or even a polytheist or pantheist.  Sure, I can fit into all of those labels from time to time, but they don’t always describe my personal religion or my spirituality.

That realization has at times given me comfort, but other times I’m distressed by it.  Not having a label means that I don’t ‘fit in’ with a specific pagan group.  And while being solitary is awesome, there are times you just wish that you had a group around you to celebrate a holiday, full moon, or other special occasion.  And don’t get me wrong, I do have pagan friends, but because my path is so personal, none of them will ever ‘fit’ into my personal paganism.  Even my husband’s paganism doesn’t fit my own.  His has his own personal beliefs and history with specific forms of divinity that very much revolve around his forge.

I don’t think I’m the only one that fits in this category of not-fitting anything.  Many people in my pagan community have to use more than one label in order to describe their specific paths.  Sometimes it’s because their paths span pantheons, sometimes because they span different traditions.  The more paganism grows as a religion, the more labels are going to be necessary to explain the differences.  And the more argument is going to occur about what the definition and intent of that label actually is.

So perhaps not having a true label is the right way to go.  Perhaps in a way that is where paganism needs to be headed.   After all, we are all unique individuals.  We all have different talents and needs.  We think differently from one another.  We  communicate differently.  It makes perfect sense that our paganism would be different.  Even if we practice in the same coven, that doesn’t mean that we do our personal ritual and disciplines the same as our coven sisters and brothers.

 

Our Different Paths: Too different to connect?
Our paganism is also going to be different because of our own past experiences.  There are those who came to paganism late in life, while others were born into this belief system.  Still others had different training prior to joining together in a specific tradition or style.  Those are all things that will influence the individual work that we do.

So if we are all different, then how can you say any particular style or tradition is the ‘right’ one?  How can we say if you don’t do this specific style of heathenry, or that you honor a specific God it means that you aren’t doing it ‘right’?  Really, you can’t.  Because one person’s version of heathenry is not going to be right for someone else.  You may visit the same topics as someone else when trying to figure out your path, but if a particular practice doesn’t feel right to an individual,it may not be because that individual isn’t trying hard enough.  It may just mean that the particular practice doesn’t fit that individual.  Instead, something else will have to be found that ‘fits’ better.

There are always caveats to any rule in paganism.  So even though I say perhaps we need to get to a place where labels aren’t needed, I know there is a caveat here.  We pick and choose our paths, and perhaps some of us will choose to work under a specific teacher.  in those cases, perhaps a specific label WILL fit for the time they are with that teacher, or that coven.  There will be people who are happy in a coven and that is where they choose to stay.  There will also be people that follow a certain heathen teacher and choose to stay on that specific path under the guidance of that teacher.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But I don’t think that particular style of paganism is meant for everyone.

Growing up in primary and secondary school here in the United States, it was pounded into my head that we are a ‘melting’ pot of people from many different areas of the globe.  People came here to start a new life.  They brought their culture with them, and that culture morphed into things we see and take for granted today.  Mardi Gras/Carnival, St. Patrick’s day,  and Paczki day are great examples of this.  While somewhat watered down or modified, these are still ancestral traditions that have made their way into common holidays celebrated by the general population.  It makes perfect sense to me that our ancestors would also look to us to follow other traditions in ways that would celebrate our ancestry as a whole, and not just a specific piece of that ancestry.  Add the matter of oathed or claimed ancestry and an entirely new facet of someone’s personal paganism is born.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that my paganism is going to be exactly that; mine.  Others have given me the labels of Lokian, Heathen, Witch, Shaman, Spirit Worker, Druid, Bard, Spiritualist, and perhaps they all fit, in their own way.  Perhaps more general terms would be better to explain like the Venn Diagram discussed in John Beckett’s essay on the Big tent of paganism.

 

The important bit that’s easily forgotten
But there is one very important part of this conversation that seems to get missed.  The definition of a religion for a pagan means that which who you are as defined by your actions.  Being defined by our actions means we own our beliefs.  We own our beliefs so strongly that we act upon them.  We don’t just debate them or talk about them for a couple hours once a week and go back to being whoever we were before the conversation.

So when someone decides that someone else’s belief is wrong or judges that belief, it isn’t something easily dismissed.  Because it’s not just a judgement about a simple religion.  We have internalized our belief systems enough to act upon them, so that judgement is about someone’s very nature.

Perhaps that is why we seek people out to worship with in the first place, and why we get so heated about others criticizing our beliefs or the labels we give ourselves.  And perhaps it’s why I feel so very radical when I say my own way is good enough.  Perhaps it’s because too many of us have been brought up in another way, where the only religious validation that we may get is from others.  And now we are asking others to validate our beliefs as before, but our paganism is so individual, we cannot get that validation.

John Beckett has recently written posts about pagan unity, and what paganism will look like in the future.  I agree with his optimism.  But I do believe that more of us have to come to terms with our own personal systems of belief being exactly that – OURS.  Let’s recognize that we are all unique and different and come to terms with that.  Let’s also recognize that everyone else’s religion is just as valid as our own before we open our mouth to judge something we don’t understand.  And let’s work on getting these two skills down first before we start attempting to unite as a whole.

 

 

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.

Finding a Path of Belief

Something occurred to me on my walk with my husband recently.  On April 24, it will be 19 years since my first wedding. It surprised when I remembered this, having divorced the man I was first married to in 2002.

There was so many things going on around that time that we should have never gone through the ceremony. My then fiance’s mother went into a coma a month before the wedding. Columbine happened, which was on the minds of many people. Exactly one month after the wedding, his father would die of a heart attack. Two months after that, we would take his mother off of life support.  Most of his extended family didn’t even come to the wedding, deciding that it was better if they stayed vigil at their Mother’s bedside instead.

I will fully admit I was young, inexperienced, and going through a lot of mental issues of my own at the time. I had no idea how to be a wife and to give all the support I needed to give through his trials.

But even if I could have given him the support, the biggest issue for me to deal with through those trials was that I couldn’t relate to him on any spiritual level.

As I have said before I was raised Roman Catholic, and at that point I had been studying paganism on and off for  9 years.  But this man was not raised with any faith.  In fact, when the issue came up, it was quickly dismissed in his family.  So when he was forced to deal with these losses, he had no belief system to fall back on; he didn’t even know where to start to comprehend the losses he suffered.

In the end, he blamed himself for these losses.  If he would have just been at his parent’s home instead of going to work, perhaps he could have gotten help for his father.  If he had visited his parents, perhaps he would have stopped his mom from eating the thing that made her sick in the first place.  If he would have been a better son, he would still have his parents; they wouldn’t be forever lost to him.  In the end the spirituality factor wasn’t the final breaking point of the marriage, but it did a lot of damage.

Fast forward to 2006. I elope with my then fiance to Las Vegas.  A week later, we get back home and he gets a phone call in the middle of the night.  His father is diagnosed with a bowel perforation and needs immediate emergency surgery.  He was a ‘snowbird’, having left Michigan for warmer Florida weather, which made things even more complicated.  My new husband flies down to be there for the surgery.  Several days later his father takes a turn for the worse and is taken off life support.

My husband was raised in a Catholic family, as I was.  And he also didn’t feel that path was right for him and was exploring paganism.  But because he had done enough exploring on his own to form his own beliefs, he knew his father was some place safe and that he WOULD see him again. Even though there was no dogma attached to his beliefs, and that he had no core religious or spiritual practices, he still felt a comfort from what belief system he had.  It was faith in that belief system that helped him grieve and helped him get over the trauma and be able to move forward.

Thinking back on both these experiences, I wonder if it would have made any difference to my first husband if he would have been raised in a religious family.  Would he have fallen back on that teaching?  Or would the teaching have sparked a hunger in him to find his own place, like it did for my second husband and I?  Did it hinder his development that religion was so glossed over in his family growing up?

It makes me wonder if we are teaching our children enough about belief and religion.  And maybe we need to go even further with that teaching.  Maybe we need to also teach them about other religions as well as the one they grow up in to allow them to make an informed decision when they become of age.

If we give our children consent to ask questions about beliefs and faith, it allows them many different options.  They may grow up and choose to become stronger in the faith of their family.  They may choose to take another faith as theirs, or choose to either continue to question the existence of divinity or not believe at all.  Whatever their choice, they will have (or at least start to have) a belief system that works for them.  And that system will help them answer some of life’s harder questions for themselves.  At the very least, they will know where to go to help seek out more information and find comfort.

From a Pagan perspective, I think we as a community are doing better at teaching our children to ask questions and grow in their own belief system.  However, I wonder if in time we are going to have to come to terms with those who choose Christianity as their belief system once they grow up.  Much like many Christian parents do when their children choose a faith different from them, we may become upset and feel rejected by the child that chooses a monotheistic faith.  But if we preach freedom of religion, we must allow our children to choose what they feel is right for them.  If we don’t, we risk another generation of children growing up angry at their parents for not allowing them to be themselves, much like many Pagans are now when thinking of their own upbringing.

However, even though there are still struggles with belief from parent to child, perhaps things have gotten better in some ways.  When thinking back to my grandparents raising my mother and uncles, things were much more strict.  Beliefs weren’t allowed to be questioned and obedience to religion was mandatory.  When I look back at my mother’s actions as I was growing up, it occurred to me that the faith she had was obedience to her parents more than anything.  And even though God was mentioned, it is more fear of their disapproval that kept her focused in that specific religion.

I really started feeling that way after seeing her reactions to a couple of situations.  One in particular still stands out in my mind.  I had met her for lunch at a buffet on a Lenten Friday. When she looked at the offerings on the bar, she became upset because she wanted to eat meat, but instead was confined to the fish and vegetable options due to Lenten obligations.  She told me that my Grandmother would be upset if she ate meat that day.  I replied that Grandma and Grandpa weren’t eating with us, and wouldn’t know.  She said it didn’t matter.  Those were the rules she grew up with, and those were the rules that had to be obeyed.

How sad it is to me that someone feels like they must obey rules that someone else made for them.  And that they don’t feel they can vet those rules for themselves.  To be true to your own heart and mind in your religious beliefs means such a significantly stronger faith than one would have because they are told to.

Hopefully this is changing.  Maybe because of the many sources of information that are out there things are getting better.  Or perhaps it’s changing because more people are more willing to challenge the beliefs that they grew up on to truly see if they fit their mind and heart.  I hope so, but then again, the term “recovering catholic” wouldn’t be utilized so much if there weren’t more stories out there like my mother’s.

No matter what way the world is going, I can only be responsible for my part, and to live the example of being proud of my faith and being willing to allow others to have their own.

I am very proud to have a Godson.  For his first communion I took the day off and stayed with him through his religious preparatory programs at school.  It didn’t matter that it was a different religion; it gave him comfort to have me there, and it showed that I was willing to help him with his beliefs, even though he didn’t see me at his church every Sunday.

My husband made certain that his niece had a rosary for her first communion when it looked like her Godmother was not going to gift her one.  Yes, he is also Pagan, but it didn’t matter.  This is the faith she is currently growing up with, and it’s important to her.  She already uses the rosary in solitary prayer, which makes the gift even more satisfying.

If my Godson ever has questions about faith, I’m going to do my best to answer as truthfully as I can.  This goes the same for all of my nieces and nephews.  To me it is important to have faith in some sort of belief system  and be open to the fact that others will believe differently.  And when the time comes that they decide what faith or spirituality is best for them, I hope they will be able to do so with the acceptance of their parents, because I want to see them growing up with a faith that is true to their mind and heart, not a faith handed down without question.  In the end, the faith in a belief that stands up to questioning will mean stronger support for the individual, the family and the community as a whole.

 

Bias Problems?

I got a lot of response from friends on the post I wrote about not bashing the new age movement.  And while some people felt I had made some good points, I got the idea that overall many people read and dismissed what I had to say as being either naive or simply dismissed me personally as being too ‘New Age’ to think critically about the issues in the first place.  I had expected that.  I also expected people to leave hurtful comments about the post (which luckily, I did not get).

Overall, there was a bit of good discussion about the post.  And while I was going back and forth several times with other members of the pagan community, someone else popped up and made the comment that the arguments in the pagan community never change.

I laughed off the comment with him as I agree that there will always be arguments in the pagan community about labels and issues, but I disagreed with him about the particular discussion.  Instead, I framed what I was engaging in with these other pagans was a discussion with other peers of the pagan community about the points I had brought up.  He then disagreed and brought up his points as to why this was an argument; I gave my side, the others involved gave their sides, and neither of us budged.  He concluded again that based on that definition, we were in an argument.

I reread the posts, and he was right.  And my heart sank.

Now in all fairness, I had no idea what to expect when I put that post out there.     But when I reread the posts, I did see the underlying theme of “I dare you to try to convince me that whatever you say is something I should consider” with some of the participants, so thus, it was in many ways, an argument.  So I gave up.

I was in an argument, and that really bothered me.  The post wasn’t supposed to become something to defend against.  It wasn’t supposed to be me defending my ideals and my right to my own beliefs, nor to defend what I meant by recognizing that even New Age ideals had a bit of truth to them.   It was simply me trying to get another facet of a situation out in the open for people to consider.

Perhaps I am naïve.  In the late 80s/early 90s, the pagan community that I was a part of were mostly open to new ideas.  We were all growing; and information wasn’t easy to come by.  All we had were books and each other.  So, if someone had an idea, most of the time people would listen, consider the idea, then either admit it wasn’t right for them or perhaps continue the discussion to see how it could fit into their spirituality.

But that isn’t this pagan culture now.  Instead it feels like today you get into the pagan community under a specific set of labels.  And if something doesn’t fit into that label, or (Gods Forbid!) if someone tries to push themselves into a label that a specific definition exists for (and is thus considered ‘incorrect’), arguments break out.

That argument culture is the current culture for everything; at least here in the United States.  No matter what the topic is, someone is going to disagree with what it is you think.  And not only will they disagree, they will be sure to make certain you knew it complete with taunts and expletives if you push it enough. Why I thought pagan spirituality and culture would be different and more like the culture I grew my own beliefs in, I don’t know.  But I guess I needed an awakening to what things were truly like.

Why does it even matter what others think?  It honestly doesn’t matter to me if someone dismisses my idea.  But it does make me wonder that if by dismissing a different spiritual idea immediately are they doing a disservice to themselves?  Perhaps instead of challenging them, contemplation on at least a small scale should be considered?

Many years ago, I read a book called “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell.  The book has stuck with me all these years because of the exercises.  Those exercises in the book very quickly proved Mr. Gladwell’s point about how we don’t necessarily think, but instead react to unspoken and unknown biases.  While doing those exercises, I realized that I held biases that I had no idea I had.  Me, then a practicing pagan and someone who tried very hard to be open to new ideas and opportunities for growth still had biases.  The realization hurt.  And it also made me vow that I would always look at someone else’s opinion as objectively as possible to ensure that there wasn’t some grain of truth to it for myself.  I admit that it isn’t always easy.  But it is something I aspire to as a personal creed.

That personal creed is why I was so upset at the argumentative nature of the discussion.  I had hoped that other spiritual people would also believe the way I do about bias, and thus try to look at things with an open mind.  Now perhaps some did, I don’t know for certain, but the intent that I read from the posts seemed to me to suggest that the bad things the new age community has done outweighs anything I would have put forth as good, and thus the ideal of the post was dismissed.

And I could go the other way and say perhaps my bias at belittling myself makes me think that the intent I describe above happened when it didn’t happen at all.

It sounds like minutia, doesn’t it?  It sounds like critical thinking gone awry perhaps.  But in my belief, we have to think that deeply to understand the currents of energy that are around us.  We have to let our bias go; let any anthropomorphic ideals of those energies go.  The world and its energy behaves differently than we think it does; no matter how much you learn, no matter how many teachers you have or how many lives you live, we still need to expect the unexpected while we are living on this Earth.

So I come from this experience a little wiser and with more understanding, but with even more dedication to my personal creeds.  But I’ll always hope, and make time for an open minded discussion with my fellow pagans about ideals.  After all, that which does not change me only makes me stronger.

 

Photo from Deviant Art

New Age Bashing

Several weeks ago, an article entitled “New Age Bullshit Part 1” popped up in “A Parliament of Owls – Spiritual & Metaphysical Chat for Wandering Owl Fans” discussion group on Facebook. Since then, It’s been on my mind quite a bit.  It’s been on my mind because I agree with some of the author’s points, but I also very much disagree about his stance on the new age movement.

In the article, the author speaks immediately about the jargon people in the new age movement use. (He calls them ‘lightworkers’ in the article).  Specifically, he speaks to how most lightworkers only talk about love and light, Further down in the article he speaks to how some of these people refuse to even consider the darker sides of the soul, speaking to how most lightworkers believe that if they don’t give any energy to that side of them, the dark side can’t hurt them, or basically, it won’t exist.   This is where I do agree with him.  Yes, there are people out there that have been in the new age movement for quite some time and don’t think about anything but ‘the light’ and preach how staying in ‘the light’ allows this and that and allows you to develop <insert touchy-feely statement here>.

I further agree with the author that many of these lightworkers are stuck in their own personal development because they only focus on the light.  But just like the minority of any religious or spiritual discipline that ruin it for the rest of the population, the same thing has happened in the new age movement, and these lightworkers he speaks of are the culprits.  Yes, we are going to get the people that are that are stuck but they claim they are not.  We are also going to get the people in the New Age movement that specifically speak to only certain practices are ‘true’ and only using certain tools are ‘right’ and so on and so forth.  And we should deal with them like we do when we find them in any other aspect under this great big umbrella called paganism:  We need to ignore them and continue our path.  Because if the lightworkers are true to form, anything we say to them is only going to get us angrier.

The author basically leaves his article there, which makes it feel more like a rant to me than being anything informative.  (In all fairness, he did say this was part one, but I could not find anywhere where he had a part two.)  Again, I see his point and can understand why he would rant.  People like the lightworkers he describes can be very frustrating to deal with.  But there are other facets to the new age movement he doesn’t even consider covering in his article, and that’s a shame.

As most of you already know, I do intuitive tarot readings.  Many of the clients that come in to see me for readings are searchers.  Some of these people are clearly out of their comfort zone, they come to me even though they have no idea how a reading works or what to ask.  Some don’t even know how a tarot deck works.  Still, they come because they are searching for something that they cannot name.  Still others come speaking of ‘talents’ or ‘gifts’ their recent ancestors had; and their visit to me is them grasping at straws trying to connect with that talent that might be innate in themselves.

In these cases, I do my best to be the gracious host of the metaphysical realms.  I speak to them and give them ideas on reaching out to their ancestors; or other ways they can start ‘testing’ the waters so to speak.  But I don’t give them too much.  Going straight into how to cast a circle, gathering spell components for a spell or talking about some of the more specific areas of the metaphysical realms are just too much for these clients.

So in short, I give them what some people would call New Age practices to start with.

If you look at some of the practices of the new age belief you will see immediately that they are very basic.  They are easy to comprehend and they can be communicated and understood in a very short period of time.  That makes them the perfect building block for me to present to my clients so they can start building their own foundations for metaphysical practice.  Also, the so called ‘light’ exercises are perfect to help teach protection and grounding; which most newbies desperately need.

The practices I speak about aren’t any that need deep oversight.  I’m also not designating myself as their ‘teacher’ by giving them suggested practices, nor do I say they MUST do them.  I simply suggest them and allow the client to make up their own mind as to whether or not the practice is right for them.  And if they choose to go deeper and want more information, then I can suggest a specific person from the list of people I have that I know to be very reputable and that can give them further information about a specific subject.

Another reason I start with new age practices is because of the terminology of the movement is so common.  Reaching for a common language to communicate to someone is the same thing I do in my day job.  As a technical writer, I constantly have to think about my audience; Is my writing going to someone with technical knowledge so I can let lose more technical terms, or is the audience a group who doesn’t know the difference between Kaizen and a Kanban?

In order to communicate anything, we must first make certain we have a common language.  New age terminology easily bridges that gap.  It also allows me to bypass terms that might scare my clients.  Sure there are things that I still must explain in more detail, but overall I have a common language that I can use to start connecting with my client and help them work through whatever problem they have come to me to get more information on.

The people that come to see me and people like them are some of the biggest reasons why the new age movement is still thriving.  These are people who could be just becoming aware of the energies within and around them and have no idea how to work with that energy.  They might be scared shitless of something they saw, felt or heard and have no idea what to do about it.  Or they are like me when I found new age practices – they are the people that feel deep in their heart and soul that something is missing, and are reaching for the piece of them they cannot define.

I am a Reiki Master, and that, to many people, is a new age practice.  Yet it was my training in Reiki that ultimately led to my being able to control my intuitive gifts and become the adept reader I am today.  It also led to me being able to use healing abilities and helped to teach me not to send out my own energy and deplete my own personal energy sources.  Reiki became my teacher in other ways too.  It was what I reached for as protection when I started doing my own deeper journey work and it has helped deepen my understanding of the Gods as I know them now.  In fact, Reiki still is a very important piece of my spiritual discipline.

When I found Reiki, it was the only thing that I could find in the pagan community that made any sense regarding my healing and intuitive abilities.  I was already pagan; I’d been practicing rituals at that point for roughly 10ish years and no matter how much I searched, I could find no one who could help me with my intuitive and healing gifts.  Reiki was the only thing that helped me understand what I was doing wrong in my practice, and it was the only thing that helped me correct my mistakes properly.

Now had this article been written back then, and had I seen it prior to my decision to be attuned to a new age thing such as Reiki, perhaps I would have reconsidered my decision to become attuned.  And I would not be following the wonderful soul fulfilling path that I currently follow.  I would not be the strong person that I am today.  I would not be devoted to Loki and Odin. I would not be a member of OBOD.  And I would not be a keeper of the Sacred Pipe of my ancestors.  That’s one reason why I’m a bit upset about this article; who is going to read it and step away from possibly the very start of a very fulfilling spiritual path because of what others think about the practices they do?

The whole ‘new age bashing’ in articles like this one also makes me wonder if there is a deeper reason why it happens.  Was there a time where we, in our newbie ignorance, were like those lightworkers perhaps?  Did we condemn practices that weren’t exactly like our own? Or, are we condemning new age practices that are so simple that we in our current knowledge base would now assume that ‘ANY’ newbie should automatically know them as common sense?

Or are we embarrassed at our own beginnings, and that is why the new age movement gets the brunt of the bashing, much like pagan publishers that publish lots of beginner books like Llewellyn publishing (or bash the so called ‘Llewellyn babies’ who read said books), authors that write lots of beginning practice books (Silver RavenWolf) or why books that we once held in high esteem get joked about (Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue anyone?).

Perhaps that is the crux of it.  We all DO have to start somewhere.  Let’s stop bashing those starting points.  And while we are at it, let’s not worry about the lightworkers or other people that choose to stay stuck and help the ones who truly want to reach deeper.  Let’s help them realize that the tools they received and the skills that they learned in the new age movement can help them learn that there is much more to these paths than what they know.  And in the meantime, let’s recognize the new age movement as the stepping block that it can be into a much bigger world.

 

Photo from Deviant Art