Make the Damn Decisions

Some time ago I had a conversation with a newer pagan business owner.  This person was someone who claimed to be an Omnist.  I think that term is pretty loaded in this day and age, so I pressed them for more information.  Upon my further questions, this person continued to be insistent in their belief that ALL religions and faiths are true in every aspect, and all of them deserve recognition and respect.  That seems pretty straightforward, and fair, for the most part, but it was still enough to give me significant pause in dealing with them.

The definition of Omnist, according to Merriam-Webster, is “one that believes in all religions.”  There are some that feel the term needs an updated definition in that there are some truths in all religions, but not all religions are 100% truthful.  And if I would have gotten that specific definition from this person when I continued to press, this would be a non-issue.

But instead, I received their personal definition of Omnist, that they truly believed all religions are fully correct.  This was why the red flags came up.  Because in essence, this person is saying they believe in Scientology, a cult masking themselves as a religion that has hurt many of its members deeply.  They also believe in Odinism and Folkish Asatru, sects of Heathenism that believe only those with a white ancestry can follow the Norse Gods and whose followers are mostly downright despicable racists.  And they are also saying they believe in specific sects of Evangelical Christianity…the same Christian sects that are currently working to curb my rights as a woman as well as bully anyone who doesn’t act and believe exactly as they do.

Ultimately, by using this personal definition, this person is saying it’s OK these groups do horrible things; that these so-called religions all have a right to say and do the things they are doing to other people based on their faith.  And even after I continued to press this person, they made it clear that they weren’t going to take a stand on any injustices based on someone’s religious beliefs (and even became very uncomfortable talking about it).  To me, it was easy to see that they were too wrapped up making sure they don’t break any eggs, step on anyone’s toes, nor make any potential customers mad.

I do give the person credit in that I don’t believe they were taking this stand out of purposeful choice.  Instead, I realize they took this stand out of ignorance.  But even that fact – that they took this stand out of ignorance – is also a grave concern in my mind.  It means that they were not tied into the pagan community enough to understand what exactly has been going on.  They aren’t aware of Declaration 127.  They don’t understand why it had to be written in the first place.  And they aren’t recognizing that the problem of racism and exclusion is getting worse instead of better.

If that wasn’t bad enough, this person is purposefully choosing not to step out of their ignorance.  They would rather be ignorant and choose to not make any decisions regarding what they consider to be right and wrong in an effort to not upset possible customers, even if the opportunity for more information about an issue presents itself.  Because they were so insistent about this stance, it’s not a far jump to conclude that they also refuse to make hard decisions about their own personal truths. Instead, they are ready to accept anything called a religion at face value and label it as truth, and that is very scary to me.

While I fully understand and agree that someone’s personal religious beliefs deserve respect, we are not in a day and age where someone can simply accept another’s belief without questioning their ethics as well.  We have to ask the hard questions, and we have to get the real answers.  Then and only then can we determine whether or not we want to patronize this person’s business or allow this person to be in a private circle or blot with us.  Yes, that means you may hurt this person’s feelings, or even make them angry with you.  All the more reason to do it.  Perhaps they may realize their mistakes and become more inclusive once they are singled out because of their own preference for the exclusivity of people that look, act and believe exactly like they do.

Paganism is not a happy-go-lucky religion.  It’s not a religion where you are so fearful of your Gods that you don’t try to reach out to them.  It isn’t about letting others tell you what you should do and what you believe and why.  This religion is about making choices to better your life and the lives around you.  It’s about owning up to your shortcomings, and figuring out what to do about them to make yourself stronger.  It’s about building relationships and standing strong in the face of adversity.

Pagans have an active religion; we are the ones that truly know what we can and cannot do, and we understand the circumstances and (mostly) the outcomes of the actions we take.  To call yourself a pagan (or in the case of the person above, open up a business that caters to pagans) is to step into the world of your own responsibility.  There are no apologies to God to forgive you and simply take your shortcomings away.  Sure, you can still absolutely apologize for your wrong action, but that doesn’t mean you skip the responsibility of making it right.  And just as much as it is someone else’s responsibility to take action and make the decisions for inclusivity, it is my responsibility to ensure that my patronage is for established businesses that ensure that inclusivity.  Because if I don’t do that, I am just as guilty as the person who refused to make the decision in the first place.

Decision making in paganism doesn’t just end with whether or not you are inclusive.  Because we have a living, active religion, we also have to make decisions daily about our own personal actions.  This goes way beyond what place of business you patronize.  As a Pagan, I live by my religion and ethics.  I am honest and truthful in my personal dealings with people.  I stick by my promises and oaths.  I strive to take care of myself and the people around me.  Even more importantly, as someone who does work within my pagan community for others, I strive to be honest and truthful in what it is I can and cannot do.  I recognize and understand that sometimes I have to be the one that has to give the hard truths to someone who needs to hear them (and in many cases, they have asked me for these truths).  That is something I cannot trust someone else to do, especially when they are unwilling to speak for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings or losing a customer.

In Paganism we don’t have a black-and-white guidebook.  We ultimately cannot tell someone else they are absolutely wrong.  But we do have our own morals and ethics that we have to strive to keep.  We have our oaths and the Gods that guide us, and we strive to keep right relationships with those around us.  It is my responsibility to take my ethics, my oaths, and my understanding and make decisions based on these things in order to continue to pursue my religion the best way I know how.  And because of these beliefs, I actively choose to ensure inclusivity in all of my dealings; whether they be part of my local pagan community, part of my workplace actions or simply dealings in public.  My hope is that others would also be willing to make decisions based on their own morals and ideals and live by those decisions, as it is greatly disappointing when someone chooses otherwise.

 

 

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Winds of Change

How much is your work contribution truly valued in some companies?  I can answer that with a quick visualization exercise.  Imagine a bucket almost full of water.  Then put your hand in that water.  Finally, pull your hand out.  The space left by your hand is the amount of value you are as a worker in many establishments.

It’s painful to think of your job or career like this.  But in this day and age, I’ve found it to be the truth about 90% of the time (with the 10% being extremely small companies or startups that have so few employees that they may go under if they lose another).  Sure, there are many corporations that will still treat you better than others. Perhaps they will have a better compensation or benefit package.  Perhaps they have a proper hierarchical structure set up that allows your complaints and concerns to be heard and things to be actually done about them.  Perhaps they have zero tolerance policies in place that make you feel very comfortable working there without worry about being bullied for being in a minority in some way.    But even with the benefits and ethical treatment of employees, this is still the norm.

I saw this visualization posted in a coworker’s cube one day, many years ago.  And it was painful to think about, at first.  But then, I changed my perception around this visualization, and even though it’s still uncomfortable to think about, I think it has made me better able to handle the constantly occurring change in every aspect of my life.

And yes, I did say EVERY aspect of life.

This visualization is especially true in pagan communities that exist solely on social media platforms.  Groups form, people join them, people leave them, groups change, and groups die.   There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change this cycle, and there is nothing that will make one person less expendable than another, no matter who you are, what you have studied or what you have claimed to have done.  Some have a tendency to get tied up into the identity of a group so much that it becomes a piece of ‘who you are,’ much like a title of Priest or Priestess.  The very nature of the change in these groups, however, makes this dangerous.

It’s even worse if you take the opinions of those in the group as downright fact.  There are too many people in these types of situations who have extremely low self-worth, or no one to physically talk to about the subjects tossed around in the group.  Those types hang on every word, hoping that they will get the reassurance that they need to feed their severely malnourished spirit that they indeed are making the decisions they are supposed to be.  And they also beg for those reassurances that they are hearing and seeing the things they think they have.  Sometimes things get so bad the group becomes an echo chamber for a specific set of criteria; you need to think like this, walk like this and do this, and then you will be doing things ‘right’.  It doesn’t matter that the criteria are based on one opinion; if the group thinks it’s right, that is all it will be.

What is even more painful is the realization that even in local organizations the bucket visualization is also true.  The organization doesn’t have to be religious, either.  While face-to-face community organizations don’t have as many dangers as the social media groups, they still have the same aspects when it comes to group participation.  It doesn’t matter how much you contribute, volunteer or are simply present, there will always be someone else ready to pick up the slack and fill in that hole left by your hand in the water.  The sooner peace is made with that and you grieve what is lost, the sooner you can move on.

The bucket visualization is also very true when it comes to personal religious practices. Now, realize I work with two very distinct deities.  One has aspects of a change-bringing-trickster, the other has aspects of a wanderer seeking knowledge, and was willing to give up his own eye to get it.  Not everyone is going to be in the same boat of personal change that I am.  But many that work with the blood brothers will have upheaval to deal with sooner or later.  And right now, it’s my turn to do just that.

The thing about change is that it is inevitable.  Nothing stays the same; not your relationships, not the titles you are given or give yourself, not your place of employment, not your practice, not your home…nothing.  But recognizing that truth and keeping it as a mindset to be prepared for, especially in spiritual work, allows us the freedom of being able to see more clearly the real things that we need to carry with us, and see those that are weighing us down.  You learn to only take what you need with you and are more able to release the rest back to that where it came from.  Because ultimately, the excess baggage that you are carrying isn’t going to be of any service at your next destination.

 

 

 

 

The Pain of Division: Why the Native American Taunting Hurts So Damn Much

I hate that I hurt enough to write this. I hate that I sit here, partially in tears, thinking about the division that has everything in this nation polarized. This incident this weekend is already making the rounds on the right and left, with people already camped out and digging in their positions on both sides. And until now, I’ve been doing my best trying not to become entrenched.  I’ve done my best these past years trying to not let the horrid atrocities I see on the news get to me. I’ve been carefully navigating my way through each new situation, each new bit of news and its revelations with my heart still intact, hoping that sooner or later there would be a solution and we would just get back to all being united in SOMETHING.

But seeing this weekend’s horrible video of Elder Nathan Philips being taunted by a group of ‘Catholic’ kids broke me. It hurt. It made me angry and made me want to throw up all at the same time. It made me angry cause I recognize that demeanor and that sense of entitlement, and it sickens me because where I see it is in my own extended family.

 

My upbringing
I grew up Roman Catholic with blue collar, Baby Boomer parents. Thanks to my Grandparents payment of the fees and at their request, I was put in private, Catholic school. And while the school’s religious doctrine was significantly lacking compared to other Christian schools in the area, the same, simple teachings were expressed over and over. Love one another. Treat others as you wish to be treated. For what you so do to the least of my brothers you do onto me. These are the lessons an impressionable youngster like me took to heart, and I still do my best to follow them.

The same lessons weren’t taught at home. I asked my mother one time why she wouldn’t let me wave hi to a group riding motorcycles as we were going into a restaurant one time. “We don’t associate with THOSE type of people,” was her reply. My father taught me about ‘reverse racism’ and used to point out examples – anytime a black person ever stood up for themselves it was labeled as ‘acting entitled.’ The migrants (that was their name; never immigrants, Latinos or other culturally appropriate titles) that worked in the fields around our small city were ones to stay away from, because they were uncivilized, stupid and dangerous. I still remember a garage sale we had where I accidentally opened up the second garage door at the same time a family of Latinos were looking at what we had for sale. My opening the second door allowed all of the tools my father had that weren’t part of the sale to be seen. He was mad for weeks after, fully expecting his garage would be broken into at any moment.

It didn’t stop with cultural racism. When a new priest came to town, he decided to teach meditation and even did a laying of hands and prayer ceremony after mass one time for a woman who had stage 4 breast cancer. I remember her being in tears, thanking all of us who participated with hugs. I was so very excited at learning from this new priest as I knew these were things that would make me feel closer to God. But of course my parents saw it differently. They joined the group of parents that worked to get him kicked out of the parish for teaching “Buddhism”.

Of course, my religious questions continued. Dad had taught me the Nicene creed, the Catholic statement of faith, had a line that said, “Of all that is seen and unseen”, meaning that we believed in spirits and life after death. I think he wished that he hadn’t said that later, because his demeanor changed after I started asking more questions he couldn’t answer. When they became too profound, he said I shouldn’t be asking them. “The meek shall inherit the earth,” he would say, “Be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told me I was thinking too much. I had to start taking things at face value and stop asking questions.

 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The beliefs I grew up with and were ‘supposed’ to have didn’t feel right to me, and so, after moving away, I studied for myself and found out that many of the things I was taught were wrong. There is no such thing as ‘reverse racism.’ People of color DO have more issues trying to live in any society in the United States because they are still dealing with the after effects of decades of laws that did not allow them to become as financially stable as whites during the Jim Crow era. I know now that many of the immigrants that come from that southern border are fleeing from horrible situations. They have nothing, and they are simply coming here to find hope and to live their life as they wish, much like my own family came from Germany, France and England many generations ago.

But you have to go back and visit sometime. And for the longest time I did go back like a dutiful child. I tried like hell not to bring anything up that would cause problems. I wanted them to be proud of who I had become and of the life I made for myself. And most important to me was that I wanted them to recognize that I still believe those things that I was taught so many years ago in that private Catholic school. Love one another. Do onto others as you would have done to you, for what you onto the least of my brothers you do onto me. Perhaps I wasn’t going to mass regularly, but I was still searching, doing what I could to find my religious place in the world and make it balance with still being accepted by my family.

It never happened. Even up until ten years ago I was still trying. I’d bring something up to my father that another minister had said and he would immediately end the conversation with, “that’s too liberal.” Months later I tried again as I found common ground in Oprah Winfrey’s talks with Eckhart Tolle. I brought up to my father some of the topics and how they connected my personal beliefs with their Catholic teachings. “She’s a reverse racist.” He quipped.  The worst of it was seeing the anger he had in his eyes when I brought a book for him to read.  I saw he was reading a book written by John McCain during the last time he ran for the presidency.  So I brought Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” into the house. I was hoping to switch books with him so we could find some common ground. After he told me to get that book out of the house, I stopped trying.

 

The Familial Reality
I know now that there is absolutely no common ground with my parents when it comes to beliefs about culture, religions and privilege. The Trumpian madness has just made things more clear than I ever wanted to know. I had put boundaries on visits with my extended family because of the gross chasm of different beliefs. Stupidly, I relaxed those boundaries this past holiday season and was hit in the face with more talk about how ‘we’ are getting ripped off by ‘those’ illegal immigrants; how heaven has a wall, so we should too, and how there is no such thing as racial injustice in this country. I left the Christmas family celebration feeling alienated and betrayed, painfully aware that there was nothing I could do to change their minds, and that they had become even more feverous in their beliefs. I liken it to a cultish fervor now.  And it doesn’t stop with my parents anymore. Many of my aunts and uncles share the same beliefs. Some even more radical.

I have spent the past month trying to come to terms with this new normal. I’m going to have to make tougher boundaries, because I cannot even fathom how to face the fact that my family are racists.  It hurts that they are so comfortable in their privilege that they refuse to see anything else. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, they refuse to stop looking at shadows on the wall because they like what they see. Worse yet, I will always be treated as ‘different’ when I visit. Perhaps they think I’m too intelligent for my own good, or just have too big a bleeding heart for others. I don’t care anymore. I have spent too much of my time trying to bridge a gap that no one else is reaching a hand out to help with.  A gap that they claim I’ve put there myself in the first place.

 

Why The Covenant Catholic Incident Hits so Close To Home
I am no longer Catholic. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings toward the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. Yes, many atrocities have happened in the church. I don’t deny that. But there are also very good people out there that are Catholic. My Grandparents were some of the good ones. My Great-Grandparents were as well. My sister teaches in Catholic school, and although she can be a bit bossy (she’s a Virgo after all) she is still a damn good woman. My Godparents were damn fine people who raised damn fine daughters of their own. I saw one of them post on Facebook about being just as appalled as I am of this incident.

But what still hurts is I already know that my parents are echoing the language of the priests and the parents of these boys. ‘That man was pounding his drum in my boy’s face.” “Why don’t you play all of the tape so you can see the real issue here and not make it about my son who was defending himself.” “We don’t know everything that happened here, so we can’t truly judge who was at fault.” Every time I hear or read someone say something in support of the discrimination both in this situation or anything that is pro-prejudice, it’s heard in my father’s voice. Because that is what he has become, and he doesn’t see anything wrong with it.

 

What Do I Do Now?
There is a reason why I haven’t gone to many marches, joined a resistance organization or done anything else but donate money since these things all began. The fact of the matter is I can’t. It just hurts too much. It hurts because I know people on the other side, and these people were supposed to be the loving, caring individuals that I grew up with, and should be living the truth they taught.

Now, it’s a lot worse for me.  Since Christmas I have been doing everything I can to not be overwhelmed at this new reality of boundaries I must now consider. I’ve already unfriended family on facebook, I refuse phone calls and only responded to the occasional texts. And even that little bit of communication feels uncomfortable as hell. But right now, I just don’t know what to do. Even my ancestral veneration work feels solidly off.

All I know for absolute certain is that I have to do what is best for me and my immediate family. I need to take care of myself. Those boundaries aren’t because I am being mean, not ‘listening to both sides,’ trying to ignore some ‘truth’ or because I’m just being a bitch.  They are there because of the pain I feel. I may even take a break from social media for awhile, even though I don’t really want to do that as it will also cut me off from facebook friends that have been my support. I’m still figuring it out as I go, but I am damn proud of myself for recognizing where I am at and that things do need to change, for better or for worse. (And to be perfectly honest, this post is either going to make things worse if they ever see it, or make things better because I’ll feel better once it’s posted.)

 

The Takeaway From All Of This
If you have read through all the way to now, thank you for reading. And just please know that there is such a thing as a good Catholic, and even a such a thing as a good Christian. Know that there are also good, caring individuals out there that for whatever reason, they refuse to step away from watching a shadow of what is really going on in the world. I may not agree with everything my extended family says, but they do try to care. And they, along with many others, don’t deserve hate. Perhaps pity, but not hate. Save that for the ones who are making the speeches and performing the actions that are further dividing people.

As for me and what I’m going to do in this new normal?  I’ll still keep my eye out while I’m in public, prepared for something that could go awry if someone decides they are going to go public with their racism. I’ll still donate to charities as much as I can, and I’ll still pray for justice and peace.  But that is really all I can do.

Roles in Paganism

My first foray into pagan communities was in the early 90s.  Back then the spirituality du jour was Wicca, and covens made up a bulk of the pagan communities.  There was the occasional sprinkling of heathens, but the ones that I knew well really didn’t do any worship of their deities like they do now. (To be honest, many of them were scared shitless of their Gods and basically worshipped in hopes they wouldn’t piss them off.)

So roles back then were pretty simple; either you were a priest or priestess, a high priest or high priestess (as in, ran your own group), a member of a coven or you were a solitary practitioner.  That was about it.  Many covens at the time, including my own, had a lot of training going on to ensure the laypeople would be able to participate and run circles of their own.  This made a natural transition for more people to step up and be a priest or priestess in time, and in a lot of ways was expected.

When I finally returned to being a physical member of a pagan community about 14ish years ago, I found a very different place than the one I left.  Gone were the ‘plug and play’ days of simply invoking different deities in a common ritual and calling it a specific genre or culture of witchcraft.  Now there are specific rituals and traditions for specific cultures, complete with their own hierarchical organizations.  Ancestral veneration is a huge part of practice, along with more flavors of beliefs in the pagan community than there are stars in the sky.

Because of this diversity, trying to group people together by a specific belief is pretty much impossible.  There are too many versions of ways to venerate a specific pantheon of Gods to even comprehend trying to find a universal way to worship.

So instead of trying to come together by belief, perhaps we should consider coming together by traits of beliefs.

I’ve referenced John Beckett’s Big Tent of Paganism a lot because it’s really the only way I have found to recognize differences, yet unite within a specific pagan community.  These are clear ideas that we can see where we ‘fit’, something that is still necessary in this pagan environment full of individuality. Pagans still want to feel like they belong and by looking at this tent set up, they can see the ways where they do.  So in essence, moving forward with other possible traits to compare and discuss personal beliefs is a good next step.  Perhaps it isn’t an additional rallying point for unification for Paganism itself, but it at least is something to discuss.

So in an effort to discuss common traits, I wondered about the clarification of roles; not by using specific cultural words, but using actual traits of roles that could span across multiple cultural differences.  The reason is that when we use specific cultural words to describe our pagan identity, the intent of those words is so watered down that their true definition doesn’t match what the person is intending to convey.

For an example, consider words like “Shaman” or “Witch”.  They describe intent of work, but what specific type of work? Are the people using the word “Shaman” to describe a core Shamanistic style of belief? Are they lineaged, or are they a hybrid of both lineage and core beliefs?  It’s the same with the word “Witch” – are you Wiccan, or are you another breed of witch from a different lineage, or do you use the term differently than it is currently defined?

So ultimately, when describing yourself, the cultural words being used end up describing very little about who we are, leaving confusion regarding personal belief and level of activity in a pagan community.  Another big issue is that utilizing cultural words to describe who we are could also be ‘fighting words’ to some who feel they were culturally appropriated in the first place (and that could very well be true).

 

Is it Time for Clearer Roles?
When trying to explain what role I play in a pagan community, I try to discuss the traits of my beliefs instead of discussing culture or using cultural words.  Many times the trait itself translates well across multiple cultures and also allows clearer communication of what it is I actually do.  The only time this isn’t the case is when I or someone else is discussing a specific title from a specific tradition, but I’m finding this to be more uncommon as the new norm of pagan spirituality seems to be that pagans are drawn to Gods and Goddesses of multiple cultures.  This can further confuse the situation.

In an effort to further look into the possibilities of defining roles based on traits instead of cultural references, I have written a draft of what those roles may look like, complete with my opinions and observations on each.  Many times these roles will most likely change as someone learns and grows, which is expected.  Our roles can also change because our Gods drag us into the new one kicking and screaming.  It’s also possible to stay in one or many of these specific roles for your entire life.  Either way is dependent on your relationship with your Gods, your personal goals and the needs of your community.

It is important to note that none of these roles are more important than the other.  I see many Pagans thinking that being a priest or priestess for deity is the ultimate goal that is to be strived for and that it will immediately gain the person a high status in the community.  This isn’t the case.  There are way too many complexities in today’s paganism for us to all be reaching out to be a priest or priestess, and in many ways, it’s a thankless job.  Further, in order to serve a healthy pagan community, we need to be striving to have the most variety as possible.

 

Priest/ess
While the role of priest and priestess are necessary, in many ways I feel like the titles have baggage left over from Abrahamic religions.  In Christian religions especially, a priest is someone who intercedes on your behalf to the Christian God.  A Christian priest is also someone of high status who is looked upon in times of need for wisdom and guidance.  In short, they tend their ‘flock’ of believers. In paganism, we don’t NEED to have someone intercede (most of the time).  Yet, possibly because of the Christian example, these two titles are coveted and used by many pagans even though they aren’t really ready for them.

I believe a person calling themselves a priest or priestess should have a very strong amount of training.  It is best that parts of this training come from an organized and established group or mentor-ship with a well-known teacher.  This is not a role that can be easily undertaken with information just gleaned by reading books.  A priest or priestess is not only a servant of the Gods they have oathed to, but they are also a servant of the pagan community as a whole.  Because of this, their training shouldn’t stop with just learning pagan ritual.  They should also have a solid understanding of mental health, training in techniques of nonviolent communication and learning differences (at the very least), and be familiar with mental health and physical resources in their local communities.

Priests and priestesses of a deity also have the responsibility of putting their own ego aside as much as possible. Someone who claims the title of priest or priestess must be able to serve others the way their God wants, or there could be serious consequences.  As a priest or priestess, you are now a spokesperson for your God – what they want is now what you need to do.  If this means that you have to approach something a different way to ensure unity of a group, then so be it.  Most of the people that claim this title that I know also do significant amounts of work in this role…LOTS of work.

Being a priest or priestess is not a status that will quickly bring honor and prestige.  By accepting that title you are choosing to do the dirty work of the God you work with. It means being there when someone calls at all hours of the day and night because they are afraid of some sort of sign they see. It means understanding and soothing fears, or working with someone in order to help them recognize their own shortcomings in a manner that they can learn and grow from. It could mean you are now leading a group and expected to teach in that leadership role. It could also mean you are going to be the one called to the hospital for spiritual aid when an emergency strikes (I have seen this happen!) or called to do the work of fellowship in a jail situation. (Yep! Seen this happen too!) Priests and priestesses need to also have patience, as there will be a significant amount of drama that they have to deal with on a regular basis.

Finally, if you call yourself a priest or priestess, you better know the legal ramifications in your state or country for reporting abuse or crimes. Many states require reporting of specific issues, and you may be found liable if you do not report something you were told by someone you were counseling.

If it sounds like I’m pushing back on using the titles of Priest or Priestess, I am. You have to know your stuff. I’ve seen way too many people use that title over the years but then not be able to back it up.

 

God/Goddess devoted
I believe a majority of the pagans in the US today could fit under this role. Many people aren’t called to a leadership role in the community.  Instead, they are comfortable in a background role. They are devoted to one or many Gods and Goddesses, and do offerings and work with that deity either in a group or alone.  They may or may not have a specific oath to a God or Goddess, but if they do, it’s a personal one that most likely doesn’t include extensive outreach and leadership in a pagan community.

There is nothing wrong with not being in a specific leadership role, being a lay member of a group or just being focused on solitary work. In my opinion, it is the people who are in the role of devoted practitioners that are the most valuable, as it is their needs that leaders need to understand in order to better focus the group as a whole. Without this insight, we who take leadership roles in our communities wouldn’t know how to properly meet the needs of the members, ultimately causing communities to splinter and break up.

Those who are devoted are the ones that show up and make the difference. They are the ones who are willing to engage and send energies.  They allow their energies in group settings to be crafted and weaved together to make things happen. These are the ones in the blot who form the bond of family, who make people feel included. And these are the ones that show up and make fellowship happen, even if it is in a simple social media group. Many times it is the devotees of a particular God or Goddess that become the initial contact for many new people coming into this religion, which is a very important role to be in as without new blood, groups grow to stagnate.

 

God/Goddess bound
There are a lot of people that I see binding themselves to a deity without even realizing it.  Loki is a great example of this.  Many times I think that has a lot to do with Tom easy-on-the-eyes Hiddleston, who plays Loki for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. People who don’t quite understand what they are getting into decide to become a Loki follower, thanks to his portrayal. They pledge themselves to Loki thinking they are binding themselves to what they see in the comics.  And then the flame-haired one appears.

I’m sure the phenomenon also happens thanks to Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins and probably Ian McShane too (American Gods is a pretty well-known novel after all). But even if you didn’t mean the words in that manner or are surprised at the results, once you have oathed to a God or Goddess you will need to do a lot of work to get out of what you said you would do.

Oaths are very important in the eyes of the Gods. They are not meant to be taken lightly. However, they do have their place, and many people take them for many different reasons. In my own case, the first oath I took to my God was one of intimacy.  My God opened me up and looked deep within my spirit, for part of my oath meant that nothing I had within my spirit was kept from him. In return, I learned from him how to transform those pieces of me that were broken and tortured.  And by doing so, I gained strength, knowledge about myself, wisdom, self-worth and a sense of peace that I never thought I would ever have.

Oathbound doesn’t always mean intimacy or even free will.  Other forms of binding include the God requiring it whether or not the person wanted it. It seems to me that it’s rare when a God ‘claims’ someone, but it does happen, especially in instances of karmic issues or of oaths that had been broken previously.  In these cases, the oath a person takes toward a God could be a way of reducing a karmic burden they carry. Another situation could be that the person may have a specific trait that the God or Goddess needs or requests to be used for a specific purpose. In those cases, if you can, negotiate heavily for what you get out of the deal.

No matter the reason, someone who is bound to a God or Goddess will be working heavily with that source of divinity for a long time. They may be pushed into situations they are not comfortable due to their God or Goddess wanting or needing something for them to do. And at times, those situations could mean they are working within the community to connect, protect, or to help others in other ways. At the very least, they may find themselves saying something to someone else without any idea where the thought came from.

This is also not a role or status to be taken lightly.  Regular discipline will be required to continue to nurture the connection between the devoted and devotee.  The job isn’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination but in many ways, those who are oathbound receive significant satisfaction through their connections, even if originally they were not given a choice.

 

Seer
This is a category that I put myself into frequently. As an intuitive reader, it is my job to be able to see things that others cannot. It is also my job to be able to communicate those things to the requestor or client in the best manner possible. This also means I and other seers are of service to the community.  This can also mean that, like the role of a priest or priestess, there are times when someone is in need that I have to find a way to make it work to help, even if it means moving my schedule around to do it.

Seers help bring solace, understanding, healing, and connections to someone who (at times, desperately) needs it. Seers can help guide people when they are lost, connect them to their loved ones and make them feel like they have control of their lives. It is a hard job at times, especially when there is troubling news to share. But it is still a worthy role.

You don’t have to be reading cards, runes or doing astrological charts to be a seer. My husband is a great example. He has a seeing gift, but it only comes in spurts, which suits him just fine. Every once in a while he will pipe up with a saying or respond with a statement that isn’t ‘his’. It’s during those times I know he’s using his seeing gifts to bring necessary messages (that I’m probably not hearing because I don’t want to).

Although there are many fine, gifted seers out there, getting some sort of training in your preferred medium is an excellent idea.  A seer only gets better by doing their craft and honing their skills.  They also get better by receiving feedback from their clients and the community they serve. Seers are also another role that encounters people new to paganism, and they have to understand that and adjust their mannerisms appropriately. Finally, If the seer cannot provide additional help or information about the topic their client needs to discuss, it is very important for them to identify other contacts in the pagan community that the client can go to for aid.

Seers should also be aware of the local laws regarding obtained knowledge about situations that could be unlawful.  Not only is it unethical to not report this information, but it could seriously wreck your karma by not doing so.

 

 

Additional roles could be added, or some could be considered a sub-role to one of the categories above.  I’m not certain where a Ceremonial Magician would fall, although I think they may be almost in the middle of all four.  I myself recognize that I’ve fallen into every one of these roles sometime during my pagan work and sometimes more than one role at a time.  It’s all about what the community, the specific God or Goddess you work with and what your needs are.

I offer these thoughts as a possible way to connect with a fellow pagan; to more easily identify what your identity is without the utilization of possible cultural backlash.

I’d love to have other’s input, as always, and thanks for reading.

 

 

 

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

The Trial of the Flame

flame_by_vexix1887
Photo from Deviant Art

Well take my hand, and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Oh take my hand, and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

Now well within the cold dark battlements,
Black raven calls my name.
Never’ fore have I explored this backside of my brain.
There amongst those misty ruins likes this port of death and pain.

Take my hand, we’ll make a stand,
Through the trial of the flame.
Well take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

Gonna take this long trek down the shoreline.
Where the sea awaits me there,
If you do not fear it friend,
You’re ‘bout as mad as can compare.
Lost souls, and ghosts and phantoms are there awaitin’ in the rain.
So take my hand and walk with me through the trial of the flame.

Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

How does it happen now good lad
Black raven calls your name?
On this dismal voyage through a world that reeks of death and pain.
So clear the smoke it’s vastness so infest your mortal brain.
Take my hand I’ll lead you through this trial of the flame.

Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.
Take my hand and follow me,
Through the trial of the flame.

 

 

I may not have all of the lyrics of this song correct, but they are as close as I can get them from listening to Garold Amadon’s album “Tillerman’s Rye”.  This song for me is speaking to a lot of trials that I seem to be going through lately; with the fibromyalgia, the changes in my social groups, my work and in my spiritual life.  It’s funny, Tillerman’s Rye came out over 20ish years ago now and those lyrics are still as meaningful now as they were then.

We aren’t meant to be stagnant beings on this planet.  We are meant to learn, grow wiser and to help others.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to hurt along the way as we stretch ourselves.  We can only try to keep moving forward, keep pushing, keep striving for what is right for us and for our communities.

 

(Song by Garold Amadon, off the album “Tillerman’s Rye,”  available at his website)

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.