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.

 

 

 

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Working Through Ordeals (Confession Time)

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This is one of those posts that I don’t want to write, but I need to write (and have been asked to write). And so, I’m going to write it.  But note that this is under duress.

You see, I am going through an ordeal right now.  I have been for months.  And the fact of the matter is, it’s of my own choosing.

Well, kind of.

I am choosing to write this for a couple of reasons.   I think the biggest reason is that I need to finally come out and say what the heck is going on in my life, and why I haven’t blogged in two months.  But it’s also because I don’t know if many understand what a spiritual ordeal actually is, and what it means to go through one.  I’ve seen many people focus on the spiritual aspects of a goal and not recognize the ordeal that needs to be gone through in order to achieve that goal.  Or, people only focus on the spiritual aspects of the ordeal only to deny the practical disciplines that need to go along to achieve the spiritual goal.  That is one of the reasons why I’m being asked to share this right now.  To use the well-worn phrase, be careful what you wish for people.

Let’s get some clarifications out of the way before I go further.

 

The Background of an Ordeal
First, what exactly is an ordeal?  The definition of an ordeal, through a very quick Google search, is, “a painful or horrific experience, especially a protracted one.”  Now, with that definition, why the hell would anyone want to go through one?

The quickest answer I can come up with is to become stronger.  Or, to become wiser.  And, well, to live.  We actually are going through ordeals almost daily in this world.  Sickness, trauma, arguments with others and many other things can be considered ordeals.   For a while, there was a meme going around that said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Those battles spoken about in that meme are other people’s ordeals.

So my belief about these ordeals is that since we have to go through them anyway, why not learn from them?  Why not try to approach the ordeal in a manner that will help you further your understanding about a specific topic or issue? Or even better, how can the ordeal help you work on uncovering and dealing with issues that you carry?  For me, that is a very specific point of my spirituality; to use ordeals to better understand the world around me and for my own self-improvement.

So as someone who gravitates toward a self-centered concept of paganism, who only 6ish years ago found deities that she agreed to work with directly after a multi-year hiatus, and is starting to find her voice again in the community, it makes perfect sense that my mundane ordeals would have a spiritual aspect to them.  It also makes sense because I am doing intimate work with specific Gods.  And those specific Gods expect that you clean up after yourself and work towards a common goal.

These ordeals are a blessing in that when you are done you will be absolutely shocked at the mountains you have climbed, the struggles you have gotten through, and that you did all of the things that you thought you couldn’t do.

Ordeals are also a curse because you are about to go climb those mountains, work through multiple struggles, and do all of the things you think you can’t do right now.

It seems like many pagans today seem to equate ordeals with spirituality only; as in, they only focus on spiritual struggles (initiations, rites, and other journeys)  and assume they are the only path for spiritual growth.  Some even focus so hard on the spiritual aspects that they literally are hiding from the physical issues of their life (which in fact, are their actual ordeals).  Still, others may focus on the physical as not an ordeal, but something else.  They may, in fact, give the physical issue a spiritual cause (e.g., someone is out to get me).  That is where discernment is absolutely necessary to understand what is really going on.  In my case, yes, there are other reasons why things are happening in my life right now, and I recognize the cause and effect of those reasons. But at the same time, I know my issues are part of an ordeal and that this ordeal is physical and spiritual in nature.  I say that because I see the results of the struggle that I am in. There are both physical and spiritual benefits to this to this struggle.  That in my mind classifies this as an ordeal.

 

The Path to My Own Ordeal
Looking at things as ordeals comes naturally to me.  Long story short, I’ve set myself on a path of reinventing myself once before, and although it took some time, I’ve come through those struggles beautifully.  I’m proud of what I have accomplished, and because of those accomplishments, I’ve caught the eye of a certain one-eyed deity.

Odin is very much a deity that appreciates people dealing with their own crap.  And I’ve done several cycles of dealing with my own crap already – once doing a full reinvention of myself, and multiple times in overcoming significant obstacles and fears.  Looking at that resume that I am so proud of, it makes sense that he’d want me to be working for him (to put it bluntly).

Other than following through with the self-improvement, I wonder if Odin also works with me because I have developed skills to handle new ordeals.  I’m disciplined (for the most part), and I have the drive to push myself forward, even sometimes at the expense of overdoing it and hurting myself.  I’m also stubborn as all hell and if it meant proving a point, I will take on detrimental actions that in the end will cause more trauma than it will likely be worth (but I proved my point, dammit).  So there are lots of pluses and minuses here.

Anyway, Odin comes along, and I agree to work with him.  And in the span of a year and a half, I start a new spiritual training program, decide to go to graduate school, find a degree program that matches my interests, start it, take on a larger role in my work life, and find my intuitive readings becoming more and more accurate and specific as well as going into deeper spiritual issues.  And I often find myself being drawn to do specific readings at specific times, giving the client “exactly what they needed to hear” (their words, not mine).

And if that wasn’t enough, the energy of my household raised to the point where my husband started feeling it and started his own road of improvement.  And just as he started his own training, he was laid off of his work (which I think was all part of his spiritual development as well).  Overall, being laid off will be a good thing – he was being underutilized and there was no room for growth at his former employer – but the finding of a job has added a level of deep stress for him and I to both be dealing with.

Again, you can see spiritual ordeals are not just spiritual tasks.  You face things that you are holding onto that are detrimental to your growth.  You go out of your comfort zone, taking risks you wouldn’t normally take, and most importantly, changing your habits and mindset to allow for more understanding and compassion for yourself and others.  After all, ordeals are meant to open yourself up for a clearer link to the spirits and to the Gods, and sometimes it’s shadow work that is keeping you from them.  Shadow work cannot be cleared up by spirituality alone.

 

Now Onto My Confession
To put it bluntly, this ordeal is kicking my ass.

It’s taking me places in my psyche that I haven’t talked about, haven’t dealt with before, and couldn’t even define with words until a month or so ago.

I now realize that I have a very, very deep animosity for myself, my intelligence, my skills, and my abilities.  I believe this animosity to be a learned behavior, but also a congenital one.  And that animosity has influenced my life in ways I’m still realizing.  It’s one of the reasons why I (still) cope with overeating.  It’s the reason why I haven’t followed through in some of my past self-improvement endeavors, and it’s the reason why I sometimes push myself so hard I break my own body.  There are other things I’ve realized too; other things that I haven’t really articulated before (and if I tried to explain, I’d take up two or three more blog posts just to describe), but the animosity is the one I’ll confess now as it is front and center in my head.

But now that I know it is there, the ‘mental tape’ that was buried for so long just reinforcing self-defeating behavior is now something I hear loudly being played over and over again as I continue to step out of my comfort zone.   While I’m doing homework in my class (that I have to pass with a B or better just to stay in the program – no pressure) I am constantly fighting it beat me up and telling me I will fail.  I get tapes at work telling me I’m not good at my job and will be laid off soon, making me lose my house and my security because we have no other cash flow.  At home, I’m not doing enough, I’m ugly, I’m fat, and I’ll never be any healthier.

Why are there multiple tapes going on?  Because this animosity was buried so deep it has become a habit, so just acknowledging that it is there isn’t going to stop it.  I need to figure out and establish new tapes to replace the ones that keep flooding my brain, and ultimately, create new habits that will replace the bad ones.

So while I’m dealing with all of the uncomfortable feelings of this animosity, and with the insecurity of my current financial status, I have other questions about the success of this endeavor in my head.  What if I do succeed in getting rid of this animosity?  What then?  Who will I be?  What will replace it?  What will my comfort zone look like?  Will it be a place I want to be, or am I asking for something I really don’t want and don’t know it?

And from a spiritual perspective, the question about why Odin is pushing me to do this is also at the forefront of my mind.  Don’t forget, Odin is a God of manipulation as well.  He does things for reasons we won’t always understand.  And that manipulation may not have any right or wrong to it; in his mind, it is all for the greater goal.

To say all of this has brought up insecurities, anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings is an understatement.   I’ve had panic attacks, bouts of anger, bouts of depression, frustration, tears, and so many other emotions I’ve lost track.  But while all of these emotions are being sorted out, I’m still working 45ish hours a week (in a job I like, so that is good), putting in about 35 hours a week on my graduate studies, trying to get in some sort of healthy exercise, keeping up spiritual disciplines and trying to be support to my job seeking husband as well as helping to keep up the house and try not to let my emotions get the best of me so that a fibromyalgia pain flare-up doesn’t sideline me.

This shit is hard.  But it’s meant to be.  And I keep getting reassured that each and every piece of this ordeal has meaning.  Every struggle day in and day out is part of the ordeal.  And I do know this won’t last.  My husband has had 11 interviews in two months.  The only reason he isn’t working is that the firms he’s interviewed with are taking their time due to the holiday working schedules (it happens at this time of year).  He’s putting in the time so the financial security will come…sooner or later.  I’ll be finished with my class in mid-December (after I finish a final examination, which has its own negative mental tapes playing in the background).

I keep reassuring myself (and getting reassured) that I’m doing everything I can, and I’m doing it all right.  I’m making the mindful choices, I’m sticking with things and putting in the time I’m supposed to be doing.  I just need to keep moving on.

 

Final Thoughts
I’ve been focused on self-improvement work for the past 16 years.  I’ve done a lot, and I’m still always surprised at the requirements that are laid out before me to achieve another personal goal.  I know I do more than many others do when it comes to spiritual discipline, but I also recognize that there is give and take here.  If I want to do more, or am asked to do more, I have to be ready to accept the burden of the ordeal to prepare me for that endeavor.  I also have to accept the responsibility that comes along with the tasks I’m asking to take on.

Not everyone is fit to be a teacher, a mentor or a spiritual leader.  Not everyone is meant to be a Priest or Priestess.  But yet we all have something to contribute to the pagan community as a whole.  Our task, if we want to be a part of a pagan community,  is to find that thing we are meant to do and serve our community as we can.  This means that we will have to go through at least one spiritual ordeal in our lifetimes.   And while my personal ordeal is tough, I am recognizing that it is also very much about finding that place in the pagan community as a whole.  So I will continue with it to the best of my ability.  There is still a chance I may fail, and I accept that.  Either way, I will be continuing to learn, and that is the most valuable thing I can do.

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.

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)

Poem: I fly

The draft around me
I feel the sky
Wings outstretched, taut
I  bob and weave, leaning  into the wind
I see my prize

Water splashing around me
I dive in
Chaos reigns and could kill
Only a moment I have
I claim my prize

Pounding hard now
I regain my height
Heavier than before
But yet I overcome
I have my prize

I shall live a day more

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.