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Posts by: "Teo Bishop"

A year ago I wrote about feeling ashamed at Pagan Pride.

The circle was to blame, I stated.

On Saturday, to my surprise, I found myself standing in a circle at another Pagan Pride, but this time I was helping to facilitate ritual. I was “West,” to be specific.

I stood in a circle, one that, when uncast, would close out the Salem Pagan Pride Day festivities, and — thankfully — I did not feel ashamed. (In fact, I can scarcely remember feeling so affected by the experience last year.) Instead I felt like I was participating in a community gathering that meant a great deal to this group of people.

I felt humbled, I think.

cieciel10_ Crochet Circle

Standing across the circle from me was a young girl, perhaps in her mid-teens, and I swear to you she was so present in that circle. When everyone turned from direction to direction, thanking the elements (which is a part of OBOD ritual but very much not a part of ADF ritual), this young girl put her whole body into giving thanks. She was participating in the theater of the event in a way that reminded me of the most pious Christians in church, genuflecting before moving through the pew and bowing their heads as the cross made its way to the altar.

This girl was doing her religion hard.

And I found that heartwarming.

It wasn’t my experience, though. I stood amidst a few OBOD members, all students of the Bardic grade, and a smattering of eclectic Pagans and I had no clear idea of what all this meant to me in a religious or spiritual sense. But looking at that girl reminded me of myself at some other point in my life. It reminded me that there was a time when I participated fully in my religion; eyes closed, hands clenched or opened wide to the sky, heart full of wonder, or mystery, or gratitude.

That was me once.

And it could be me again.

This girl gave me hope, which was something I hadn’t expected to feel when I went to the Salem Pagan Pride day event. I went with as few expectations as I could, and I was resolute not to pick aspect the event as I had last year.

Showing how something is flawed is not necessarily a constructive act, nor is it always the kindest thing to do. I’m working on being more kind.

Last year I was genuinely affected by the circle but this year it seemed benign. I wonder how much my experience in Denver was characterized by my belonging to ADF and my adoption of ADF’s ritual practice.

The Druid Fellowship is not anti-Wiccan in any way, but it does a great deal to make clear how the two trads are different. There’s a pamphlet passed out at most ADF festival booths which explains the distinctions (how ADF does not cast circle, how it sees the gods as distinct beings rather then emanations of the God or Goddess, etc.). The organization isn’t hateful toward Wicca in any way, but there was always the sense that it was important to identity how ADF Druidry, unlike OBOD, works hard to remain distinct from that tradition.

OBOD’s approach to Druidry is much more similar to Wicca, and as I consider starting up with my Bardic studies again — perhaps even working my way through the Ovate and Druid grades — I have to reconcile that this “simple shape” which “introduces our early minds to geometry, to symmetry, to physical and social design,” and that was held to blame for my feelings of shame last year might end up becoming a bigger part of life.

/enter_humility

natura_pagana - Humility

I have a lot to learn. I feel like a beginner again, like I haven’t spent the past two and a half years being some kind of Druid. As I make introductions into the Pagan community here in the Willamette Valley, I have to soften my edges a bit. The ways in which I’ve been hard and jagged no longer serve me, and I don’t think they’re all that helpful in the process of community building (however gingerly I approach that process).

So I’m considering the circle again. I’m asking it to forgive me for being so harsh before. I may have used it to make a point about othering in a way that was unfair to the event organizers. When I said the casting of circle turned us Pagans into The Church I was taking too big a leap. Clearly others thought so, too.

This is my 200th post on Bishop in the Grove, and yet it could just as easily be my first. I am still a beginner, and about that I am not in any way ashamed.

 

Photos by cieciel10 & Diego da Silva

tealthea on Flickr _ Portland Clouds

Today is the first day since we’ve been in Portland that the sky was completely overcast. Our bedroom was a pale blue-gray when we woke, and I found the color to be incredibly peaceful and calming. I have a feeling that there are plenty of Portlanders who do not share my adoration for this hue, but rather see it as a portend of a wet and possibly depressing time to come. I’d like to think that I won’t succumb to the Pacific Northwest Blues, but there’s no way of telling.

A few months back, on a short visit to Portland actually, I was in conversation with a few friends. We were making small talk about our lives, all of us expecting and preparing for upcoming transitions. My friends were moving out of state and we were still reeling from becoming the parents of a high school grad. At one point in the conversation I said to them,

“You know – I’m just not ok. I don’t think I have been for a while.”

I explained to them that for a good while I’d been unable to stay on top of things. My spiritual practice had fallen by the wayside. I was having a difficult time approaching the morning. I was short-tempered, easily embittered, and just not myself.

“I think you might be depressed,” my friend told me.

I didn’t really know what that meant. I had some context for depression, but only as it related to other people. I didn’t know what depression felt like from the inside-out. Or if I did, I didn’t know how to identify it as such. My friends suggested that I go visit a doctor and get an opinion, and after a few days of considering it I took their advice.

Making the choice to take an anti-depressant, which I’ve been doing now for a little over a month, brought up a number of unexpected biases  I’d been holding onto. Turns out I’ve always thought that anti-depressnats were copouts. Certainly as someone who’s been a relatively religious and spiritually-minded person for most of his life I can see how dealing head-on with the more difficult aspects of life can lead to the development of great character and fortitude. Pills shortcut valuable learning, I believed. Pills are a pass to avoid the natural discomfort of living.

I now think that is bullshit.

About two weeks into taking the anti-depressant I started to notice that I was no longer agitated over every little thing. I was able to let things roll of my back in a way that I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to do. The people around me took notice as well. It seems that people have been coping with my depression without my realizing it. They were waiting for me to get upset, to spiral into worry over the smallest thing, and for the first time in years I wasn’t doing that.

I think I’ve been depressed for a really long time and I had no idea.

Even now I find it challenging to use the word “depression,” because when I write it down it doesn’t carry the weight it should. It seems like a passing emotion, as though it can be easily fixed with a piece of cinnamon toast or a peppy pop-song. But depression, as I understand it now, is more like — well — the clouds in Portland. It changes the way everything is lit. Every aspect of your life is colored differently. But unlike these clouds, which are impossible not to notice or identify, the cloud of depression is invisible. There is no cloud to point to: there is just a different quality of light.

To say that taking an anti-depressant is like the clouds parting and the sun returning might be a bit of stretch, but only by a little. It’s more like the cloud has dissipated. The world around me doesn’t look all technicolor or surreal. It just looks like I remember it looking before I was upset all the time. It’s as simple as that.

My spiritual practice hasn’t magically returned. I still get angry about things from time to time. I still feel sadness, and I don’t feel numb. I just don’t feel like I’m walking through an emotional haze. And I’m grateful for that. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am. I don’t know when this depression started, or how much of my religious busyness has been an attempt to cull the feeling. But I can start to examine that now in a way that seemed impossible while walking through the cloud.

One of my prejudices about anti-depressants was informed by this notion that a spiritual person shouldn’t need drugs. They should be able to meditate their way into a better state or pray their way into happiness. I believed that to take an anti-depressant was to copout on the really difficult work of a spiritual life. I think I was incorrect about that, but I’m still finding the language around why I was incorrect.

What do you think? Do you have personal experiences with depression, and did you find that taking an anti-depressant led to a better state of mental health? Was it hard for you to reconcile taking the pills with the tenets of your spiritual practice, or did you find a way to rationalize your choice?

How did you make your way through the cloud?

 

Photo by |rocket surgery|

Solitary Tree

I spent the morning catching up with an “online” friend, forging a new “on ground” relationship. The internet is amazing, really. To be able to initiate these kinds of relationship and build community having only the context of Facebook or an e-mail forum is phenomenal. I’m a transplant to this town, and yet there are people here who know me, and who are willing to show me such great hospitality.

My friend and I talked about ADF, about Druidry, and about our own personal, evolutionary spiritualities. I haven’t had many occasions to talk about my spiritual path post-ADF. My departure still feels pretty fresh. Part of what makes a former spiritual tradition feel like it’s former is having the opportunity to talk about it in past tense. There’s a great value in working through your thoughts with people who either understand directly what you’re going through, or who are simply willing to listen. I was grateful to have that opportunity today.

I heard myself speak of the things that frustrated me about ADF; things that I haven’t written about online. I’ve made a deliberate choice not to spend too much time writing publicly about what I see as problematic in the religion, its infrastructure or its practices. I have no intention of bad-mouthing ADF. I’m not that dude. I don’t think that would be productive or kind.

But bringing up my departure leads me to wonder how important belonging to a new group is at this point in my spiritual journey.

I’ve been going through a few of the OBOD gwers over the past few days and thinking about picking up my Bardic studies. There’s an OBOD seed group here in Portland, and although it isn’t incredibly active I find comfort in knowing there are a few Druid-leaning people in the area. This seed group is even leading the closing ritual at the upcoming Pagan Pride day event in Salem.

A part of me feels eager to develop some kind of religious community here in Portland, but then another part of me is hesitant. I don’t need a rebound relationship. I don’t want to find some new thing to dive into, to distract myself with, or to serve as a replacement for what ADF has been over the past few years.

I also don’t want to rush into taking on the mantle of a new tradition. This morning my friend told me that, from all outside appearances, I looked to be completely invested in ADF. And I think I was invested. Mostly. Almost completely. I think I was as invested as I could be while still holding a certain amount of space for my own doubts and uncertainties. I’m not sure I believe that any one tradition is 100% complete or correct, and because of this I always hold open just a little bit of space for the possibility that it won’t be the right thing for me.

Perhaps this works to my detriment. I don’t know.

But I think about going to PPD and introducing myself to the local OBODies, and I wonder if I can manage to do that without diving in head-first into a new group. I wonder if there’s a way for me to engage in fellowship without needing to fully become some new thing. It would be nice to place the focus on community building in a grass-roots way: slower, more deliberate, more patient.

This is a liminal space. I’m not really any one thing, and I’m in a position where I have to get to choose what I want to become. There’s something exciting about that, even if that excitement comes with a degree of uncertainty. I could become a full fledged OBOD member again, or I could look into AODA. I could hunt down something altogether different, or — perhaps the scariest choice of all — I could decide to navigate what it means to be Pagan without community. With as much work as I’ve done for solitaries, I’m not sure I know how to be a Pagan without belonging to a group, and I think it would be a mistake to rush through this process simply because the solitude feels uncomfortable.

Fast as a speeding oak always seemed like a terrible slogan. It used to bother me so much. It’s funny, though, because now it seems like sage advice for me. Perhaps the trees could have served as better teachers if I’d have let them.

I always thought that ADF moved too slowly, but I wonder how much of that was influenced by me moving too fast.

 

Photo by Jez Elliott

I am on the cusp of a new beginning.

New beginnings are terrifying. And liberating. And challenging. And not without a degree of nostalgia and loss. Things have to end in order for other things to begin.

Circle of life, and all that stuff.

My house is almost completely packed up. Our bed is on the floor, without a frame. We sold the bedroom set a few weeks back — in part because we’d grown tired of it, but also for the cash. Sleeping on the floor has been a strange, college-like experience. I feel like I’m in my early 20’s again. That is… until I see someone in their early 20’s. They all have so much hair.

My blog has been still and silent for over a month. It’s the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken from blogging since I started this project in December of 2010. (See the archives for proof.) I haven’t really known what to blog about, for one. But even more than that, I’ve been aware of the fact that what I needed most was not documentation of my life, but rather a fuller engagement with my life. Blogging, or any kind of self-reflective, memoir-esque style of writing, when done with extreme regularity, can begin to transform one’s perception of their life. Instead of it being the thing that you are doing it becomes the thing that you might be able to write about.

Life is more than just content.

So I stepped back. No need for a big announcement. The blog wasn’t expiring, nor did I have any real sense of when it would pick up again. I’m not even sure it’s picking up right now, to be honest. But the time away was necessary considering the transitions that were on the horizon.

In two days I will say goodbye to Denver, to all the people who I love, and I will drive across country with my husband, our three dogs, and our truckload of stuff. We’ll arrive in Portland on Monday and then something new will begin.

And I have no idea what that will look like.

natura_pagana - Le Mat

Image by Diego da Silva

When we first started talking about moving to Portland, I had this vision of finding other like-minded Druids and starting up an ADF grove. Oregon seems like a good breeding ground for Druids, and I romanticized the idea of fostering a small community once I arrived. This could still happen, although it won’t be with ADF. I couldn’t say which group it would be affiliated with, as I haven’t been inclined to pursue membership anywhere else just yet. I’m still very, very much a solitary.

A solitary without a regular practice, at that.

So it’s interesting to imagine what this blog could become in the coming months. How, without any religious structure or form, will I continue to reflect on or engage in a spiritual life? Have I been that dependent on belonging to a group in the past that I cannot write and reflect without one?

I don’t think so, but I don’t know.

That’s the thing about new beginnings. The are necessarily shrouded. They are not transparent. There is mystery inexorably woven into every aspect of them. We don’t know where we’ll get our food, walk our dogs, build community. We don’t know how the weather will feel, how the land will look as the seasons change, or how we will be embraced by the people of Portland. We have no clear sense of what the future will bring.

But I think that those are the conditions which make possible some real magic.

So maybe when we get to Portland I’ll start blogging with more regularity. Maybe I’ll write about what it feels like to live around so much lush greenery. Maybe I’ll write about what it’s like to live so close to a river, or in a place that’s not dry as a bone. Maybe I’ll stumble upon some little metaphysical shop and spark up a conversation that leads to a post, or I’ll meet a Witch or a Druid or a Unitarian that I’d only known on Facebook, and maybe that interaction will shed light on something that has, unbeknownst to me, been hidden. Maybe I’ll discover a spiritual practice again. Maybe I’ll find the room to try something new, or better yet, to try something old, something forgotten, underutilized, or neglected. Maybe there will be more new beginnings than I know what to do with, and I’ll have to write about all of them.

Or maybe I’ll do something altogether different.

I don’t know.

This time away from blogging has reminded me that you have to live a meaningful life first, and then write about it. You can’t write your way into happiness, or understanding, or peace, or even wisdom. You — or, more specifically, I — cannot just parse out life within the pixels. I have to get a little dirty. I need to spend some actual time being embodied.

Writing is not a substitute for living. Writing is simply a reaction to living.

 

A few added notes:

• Check out the upcoming edition of Witches & Pagans with Your’s truly on the cover and pre-order your copy here. T. Thorn Coyle asks some insightful questions, and the conversation that ensued went to places I hadn’t expected it to go.

• The good people at Belham Apothecary (aka Horn of Hern Home Arts) sent me a delightful little gift basket of incenses, soaps, perfume blends and ritual items. The owners of the shop are a delightful young couple from Georgia, and I’d highly recommend paying their Etsy shop a visit.

• In case you missed it here is my writeup of the Sacred Harvest Festival on The Wild Hunt. I have a feeling I may do more reflecting on this experience once we get settled into our new home.

• Lastly, if you’re an Oregonian and we haven’t already met on Facebook or Twitter, please say “hello” in the comments. We don’t know many people in town, and it would be great to feel like we aren’t complete strangers when we arrive.

Results, by Rosa Saw

“There can be no direct results of ritual. The results are always just part of the fabric of all action.”

— Sean Michael Morris

As I prepare for my upcoming appearance at the Sacred Harvest Festival I’ve been giving thought to assumptions I’ve made about Paganism; assumptions that many of us make.

We assume the Wheel of the Year. Many of us assume a circle. We assume nature reverence, but I’m not sure how many of us connect that ideal to our own patterns and habits of consumption. We assume gender for things that (I think) are genderless. We often assume and ascribe a universality to European forms of Paganism, and sometimes take that one step further to assume whiteness where race or ethnicity should play no part.

We make a lot of assumptions.

And I think, to a degree, that’s to be expected. One studies in a tradition and begins to adopt aspects of the worldviews inherent to that tradition. If universality — true universality — is not central to that tradition, you’re bound to pick up certain tribe-specific ways of thinking.

In some respects, the training I received in ADF (which, I should note, was a partial, incomplete training) is one that seeks to inform modern Pagan practices with knowledge about ancient cultures. It works with the Wheel of the Year and is rooted in and influenced by Indo-European practice and worldview. One might say that ADF Druidry it’s prototypically Pagan, even with it’s differences and distinctions from it’s more popular cousin, Wicca.

And ADF assumes, as many modern Pagan traditions do, that rituals (especially public ones) should result in something. At the very least, an ADF ritual is designed to facilitate reverence and piety; the result is often a deeper and more meaningful connection with the Kindred. These rituals can also include some kind of magickal working, but even if there is no intent to do magick there is always the expectation — the assumption — that the ritual should do something (i.e. have a result) in the physical world.

But then there is this idea that rituals are “just part of the fabric of all action.” Rituals, when seen this way, are ordinary, poetic acts that, if done well, draw people into a deeper awareness of the extraordinary reality that already exists everywhere around and inside of them. The rituals themselves aren’t fabricating the awesomeness; they’re simply reminding you that the awesomeness is already there.

That could be result enough.

Perhaps it isn’t so much a question of articulating what results I’d like to get from the ritual I lead at SHF, but rather the intent of the ritual that I should focus on. It seems like intention is the only thing you really have control over when putting this kind of thing together. The results will be what the results will be. That really isn’t up to me. But the intention? That I can (and should) decide in advance.

So my intention is for this ritual to push through my assumptions about what a Pagan ritual can look and feel like; to play with ideas of sound and movement, silence and song; to inspire participants to find a still place within, the place where their creativity is born, and to bring that creativity out in a joyous way.

Here’s the description language of my Sacred Harvest Festival ritual:

Harvest of the Soul

When we harvest, we sing. When we pray, we dance.

This is the season of the harvest, a season to look inward and reap what we have sewn. In this musical, movement-oriented, participatory ritual, we will gather together and make a good song in celebration of the harvest, acknowledging the hardships and rewards of a season of good work.

This all-ages ritual will be influenced by certain aspects of ADF Druidry, and will seek to make welcome participants from a wide variety of Pagan paths. Bring an open heart and open mind, and prepare to lift up your voice in celebration of this sacred time.

Boom. That is my intention. The results aren’t something to concern myself with too much between now and when the festival begins on August 5th. If anything, it’s time to start imagining the “how” of the ritual…

I’m curious —

If you’ve ever designed rituals, what has been your process? Is it important for you to attain some specific result, and is this something you achieve by a magickal working? Are you aware of the assumptions that you regularly make, and do you focus any of your work on challenging those assumptions?

Photo and sketch by Mike Rohde (CC)Dear Portland,

I’m moving to you in August.

My husband and I are packing up all of our things, loading up our three dogs in the car, and driving for two days across Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, a bit of Idaho, and a good stretch of eastern Oregon to get to you.

Neither of us have lived in you before. Sean’s visited more than I have, but every time I’ve been I’ve really loved you.

Part of me thinks you’re kind of a pagan who doesn’t really identify as Pagan. You don’t like labels. But you compost, and your people seem more aware of their impact on the natural world. It’s not like you’re one big coven or something, but you do have a lot of trees. You’re kind of one gigantic grove.

That sounds lovely to me.

Moving to you during this time when I’m without a defined religious identity feels like it may be a portent of some new Way on the horizon. My husband reminds me, though, that this change I’m feeling is really about me, and what’s going on inside of me.

You’re just a coincidence.

But you seem like more than that sometimes. You seem like the promise of something better; the hope of a greener, more contemplative practice. You seem like fertile soil for the kind of religious life I feel drawn to.

I’m sorry if that’s putting a lot of pressure on you. It may be unfair of me. I don’t want to create unrealistic expectations of you. You’re a city, after all. You don’t really owe me anything, and nobody asked me to move to you. We’re moving, in part, because a number of changes are lining up to make this feel like the exact right moment to leave Colorado.

For one, our kid is starting college. He doesn’t really need us the way that he did before. We’ve been prepping him for a while about wanting to leave Colorado one day, and he’s even though about moving to Oregon after he has a few years of school under his belt. He’s still got his mom here, and we’ve promised to be back for some holidays and to fly him out for other ones. We think he’ll be ok without us.

We’ve also been offered a really terrific living situation once we arrive. Our friends are moving eastward, and they’re letting us rent their house. We won’t be paying any more to live there than we are to live here. All we’ve got to do is come up with the money for the moving expenses, and I think we can cover that.

More than anything, we just really want to be in Oregon. There’s been a pull toward that state for years, and neither of us has been able to understand why.

I guess I’m telling you all of this, Portland, because I’m trying to make sense of what this move means. I’m looking around at all of my things, all of them representing some period of my life — my Christianity, my Druidry, my time with ADF and the Fellowship — and I’m considering what it means to pack all of that up and move it to you. I don’t know which of these things are still important to me, or which I will have no use for once I’m there. I don’t know if I should get rid of everything and start from scratch, or if I should cherry-pick the things that seem worth taking.

[The fact that my stuff is such a concern to me is something worth noting, perhaps something worth it’s own post.]

I have 6 weeks to prepare myself to be in you and I don’t really know how to start.

So, I’ll begin with this letter. A one-way correspondence. You won’t read it — and that’s ok — but writing it helps me start to process through all of this.

Your future resident,

Teo

P.S. Did you know that John Michael Greer lives used to live only about 4 hours south of you? I love his beard. Maybe I’ll grow a beard like that once I arrive. Maybe I’ll start looking into AODA, too.

 

Those who say that equality is not a relevant “Pagan” issue are incorrect.

There is no one for whom equality is not a relevant issue.

Strip the rights of one, and you strip the rights of all. Conversely, uphold the dignity of one, and you uphold the dignity of all.

Today SCOTUS struck down DOMA and Prop 8, and by doing so they allowed us all to take one small step forward in the direction of equal treatment under the law.

The Scale of Things (sunface13 on Flickr)

I heard the news from my husband, which seemed perfectly appropriate. He came into the room and woke me. I’d slept in, tired from a long work trip in LA. He pulled back the blinds and said,

“Good morning, sweetie. We’re recognized by the federal government.”

Sean and I were married in California in 2008 during the brief, pre-Prop 8 window when LGBT couples were allowed to wed. It wasn’t technically a shotgun wedding, but it was close. While we’d been talking about getting married for a good while, we didn’t make our plans official until we learned that California would offer marriage licenses to gay couples from out of state. California was the first state to allow this. We scheduled our time-slot as soon as we could.

Being married, and at the same time not being married has been a strange reality to live with. It’s a discontinuity that most married couples could not conceive of. When I bring it up to straight friends or family members, there’s often an “ah-ha” moment.

I never really thought about what that would be like, is a common response.

Talking about the reality of being a “married but unrecognized” couple has been an important testimony to make for another reason. The political forces which so vehemently appose gay marriage are the same forces who would happily regulate the bedrooms and sexual practices of straight people.

A puritan is a puritan is a puritan. They want to invalidate my relationship just as much as they want to get all up in your uterus.

When I say that this is a small step toward equal treatment under the law, I’m not just talking about us queers here. I’m also talking about moving toward a place of greater gender equality, too. Our society is built within a binary gender paradigm which favors one gender over the other. In many ways, the LGBT rights movement threatens that very paradigm, because jumping on board the gay train requires you to suspend all of your “normal” assumptions about gender roles in relationship. Do that, and you start seeing imbalance and injustice nearly every place you look.

LGBT rights are like a gateway drug in that way. Start supporting the homos, and before long you’ll end up a complete social justice activist.

(I’ve seen it happen.)

It’s good to remind people who may think of LGBT rights as a “fringe issue” that today’s ruling fits into a much larger discussion about personal liberty and equality — two principles which can, with enough political firepower, be jeopardized for even the most mainstream among us. Even hetero-normative folks need to be on the lookout.

But not today. Today is a day worth celebrating. I believe that equality is a Pagan value, and equality was upheld today.

That’s worth at least a cupcake.

I offer my sincere thanks to all of the front-liners; all of the people who stood on corners and got petitions signed; all of the people who sent e-mails and form letters; all of the people who spoke their own, personal truth about living in a queer relationship; and, perhaps most especially, I thank all of the many, many straight people who took up arms in this fight. Straight allies are no joke. They’re the real deal. We need more of them.

I’m going to go on being gay with my husband now, doing gay stuff.

Like picking up some produce.

Going to mom’s house for dinner.

You know…

Gay stuff.

This has been quite a week.

I made the choice to leave ADF. I handed over the Fellowship to an amazing person, Kristin McFarland. I left home for Los Angeles to meet Cher and write songs with a bunch of starry-eyed kids.

It’s been surreal.

Then, at the end of the week, after rushing to put together the most meaningful Solstice piece I could for HuffPost Religion, I got hit with a damning comment and it all fell to pieces. One little comment was all it took to make me feel small, and profoundly vulnerable.

I’d just written these words:

“I hold up to the sun the challenges I face in my own life; my uncertainty, my doubt, my fear, my insecurity, my righteousness, my judgment, and my shame. All those parts of me which have remained unexamined, undesired or unwanted, I hold them up to the sun.”

Then, almost immediately after the post went life, these words appeared:

 HuffPost Comment

I read this comment and I nearly forgot about the sun altogether, and the Solstice, and my sense of centeredness. All of those challenges I wrote about were staring me straight in the face, and I had a choice to make.

Was I going to offer this up to the sun, to the gods of my heart, or to that magnanimous mystery that a friend of mine calls the Is-ness? Was I going to allow this be transformed?

Nope.

I didn’t do that.

I turned to Facebook.

I asked my friends to flag this comment as abusive in order that it be taken down by the HuffPost comment police. They complied, and the comment was removed.

But I think I might have missed an opportunity here.

This voice, spouting this ALL CAPS ANGER in my direction, could have served as a teacher for me, if I’d have given her the chance. Not a teacher of theology, or of religion, or of the “real”, “right” way of doing things; no, a teacher in how to practice compassion toward even the most mean-spirited person.

I had a chance to practice what it feels like to stand in my center, to remember who I am, and to respond with kindness.

But I didn’t do that.

Broken Glass

I’m not mad at myself for tattling on this commenter. Being mad wouldn’t serve much good. I just recognize that I have some more work to do. It’s easy to practice your kindness-speak on an audience of comrades. People thrust forward their Likes and RT’s, and you get to feeling pretty good about yourself.

The real test on whether your message is legit comes when you’re forced to stand before someone who doesn’t give a damn about you.

What then? Who will you be in that moment?

I keep coming back to this sense that forgiveness is important. Crucial. I hear this voice in my head that says,

“Forgive yourself. Just forgive yourself.”

Funny that it isn’t saying to forgive the other person, isn’t it?

Forgiving myself allowed me to forgive her. Once forgiveness starts, it spreads. Now I’m no longer angry at bazooms22. I don’t feel affected anymore.

I remember where my center is.

Then, unexpectedly, a feeling of gratitude starts bubbling up.

I’m kind of glad this person was an asshole. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to respond like a child, because it reminded me of the ways in which I am still very much a child. The fear, insecurity, and shame that exists in me is the same that exists in her, too. She held up a mirror and said, this is what fear looks like.

I felt the fear, then I let it move me to action, initiating a series of events which led me back around to around center.

It was a gift, really.

Sometimes we get lifted up and celebrated, and I don’t think those are the times when we are offered the greatest lessons. It’s when we’re humbled by the world that we are reminded of the things that really matter:

Our own capacity to forgive.

The meaning of fortitude of spirit.

The continued relevance of compassion.

 

Puzzle Piece Heart

Photo by Horia Varlan

The thing about breakups is that you’re never really out of each other’s life. It’s an illusion to think that you can just sever ties (if that’s what you were hoping for) and then… Poof! No more connection.

It never happens like that.

When I made the decision, and then the subsequent announcement that I was leaving ADF and handing over the work of the Fellowship, I knew well and good that this wasn’t (nor did I want it to be) a clear, clean break. It was the beginning of a transition; one that may have begun a little suddenly and unexpectedly, but still simply a movement from one thing to another.

I’m not quite sure what I’m moving to in my own life. I don’t suppose it’s time to know that yet. But I do know that there are several people within ADF who, as I write this post, are working to make the transition go smoothly for the solitaries of the Fellowship. A priest is writing a new liturgy, a priest-in-training is considering the role of Organizer, and a number of thoughtful, considerate people have stepped forward to offer their talents to the cause.

This thing is going to live on.

And my work with the Fellowship will continue until the transition is complete. There are file folders, user-names and passwords that will need to be given to someone else. I’ve got document templates and drafts, all of which will have to be passed over, too. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve got to let go of that sense of ownership or authorship.

This was never mine, the Fellowship. It was never a thing to be possessed. It was an idea; a new way of thinking about service to solitaries. And the idea is out there now. It lives. And, with an inspired group of people behind it, it will grow in new and unexpected ways.

Last night I wrote what I think might be my last post on the SDF website. I needed to speak directly to the solitaries of the Fellowship and put this transition into a broader context — one that felt relevant to me, but that also might inspire them into reflection about their own lives.

I wrote,

Our religious lives may revolve around a liturgical calendar (the cycle of the seasons, the Wheel of the Year), but my experience has shown me that matters of the spirit and matters of the heart do not happen in a patterned, convenient fashion. They happen abruptly, and they demand that we readjust our thinking in the spur of the moment. In the process of doing so, while we try to reclaim our sense of balance as the ground still tremors beneath our feet, we do the real work of a spiritual life.

We experience a good and meaningful labor.

So, my charge to all of you — all of you who have shown up to speak or who have shown up in silence — is to continue your own good and meaningful labor in my absence. Take the tools which have been provided to you and fashion something relevant for your solitary observance of the Solstice. Or, use these words to get you started:

My heart is forged of good metal.
My spirit strong, unbroken.
I lift my hands and celebrate
This season of good labor.

May all my work be done with love;
Love for myself and for my kin,
And for my Kindred, known to me
Inside my heart and in the world.

This is the day of breaking forth
Into the future, arms outstretched.
I greet Unfolding Mystery
Rejoicing in this life I live!

I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am to have had the opportunity, again and again, to contextualize my own life in this way, season after season, for the benefit of a broader community. I had no idea it would be so meaningful to serve, or that baring one’s soul could act, in and of itself, as a kind of service.

It isn’t always pretty, what goes on inside of us. It isn’t always virtuous, or noble, or respectable, or admirable. But if it’s honest, it’s worth something.

It’s worth a lot.

It’s worth living for.

The Fool

Something broke today: a levee on the inside. My heart, tight and clenched for days, softened.

And when it did, I knew…

I have to leave ADF.

I spoke the words out loud, and they sounded right. They didn’t sound easy, or pretty, or anything remotely uncomplicated.

They just sounded right.

I’m not leaving because it’s convenient. Quite the contrary. Leaving ADF means, by extension, stopping my work for the Solitary Druid Fellowship.

That kind of terrifies me.

I have built this thing, virtually all by myself, and I don’t know what will happen to it. I don’t plan to take it away from ADF and have it be my own Druidic group. ADF leadership always feared I’d do something like that, and I assured them I wouldn’t. But more than that, I don’t really feel called to keep doing the work.

I’m in the middle of a 7-day series called “Shared Gnosis” that was supposed to wrap up with the release of a new liturgy. The High Day — Summer Solstice, the Feast of Labor — is in less than a week. But this series was a desperate attempt to re-inspire myself into doing this work at all. For the better part of the past month or two I’ve felt almost completely disconnected from the work of the Fellowship. I’ve been trying to encourage others to dive into a liturgical practice when I, myself, have begun to question the relevance of liturgy. I’ve been talking about hearth cultures and High Days, and I have felt almost no connection whatsoever to any of those things.

I’ve been doing ADF drag.

Leaving isn’t convenient, and it isn’t pretty. This doesn’t make me look good. In fact, this looks very much like a repeat of what is becoming a trope of Pagan culture:

• Person finds Paganism.

• Person finds tradition.

• Person is inspired by tradition, and moves into leadership position.

• Person has a crisis of — what? — faith? (I thought we didn’t have faith.)

• Person leaves tradition.

• Everybody rolls eyes and says they saw this coming.

• Repeat.

I’ve been around for only a few years, and I’ve already seen the cycle more than once.

And now here I am.

Leaving.

Shutting down the thing that I created.

Starting the cycle all over again.

The thing is, this is my life. This is me, right here, trying to be human.

And I think my biggest challenge in being a part of ADF was that I didn’t feel like there was anyone really speaking to the challenges of being human. In a devotional religion, the emphasis is placed over there, not in here. The things that cut deeply for me, that are real and sometimes really difficult for me — things like compassion, despair, forgiveness, hope, kindness, patience, honesty — I don’t feel like we spend any time talking about these things. I think we experience these things, but they always feel secondary to “right relationship.”

Frankly, I don’t care about right relationship. Or right action, for that matter.

I think those concepts are distraction from the messy, mucky, complicated, beautiful acts of being human that have nothing to do with how virtuous or pious we are.

I didn’t think I could earn my way into Heaven when I was a Christian, and I don’t think I can, through my own actions, earn my way into good standing with the Gods.

It’s the same thing to me. It’s a repeat, and it just feels wrong.

I can try to do well and I often fall short, but — amazingly enough — when that happens I experience a deep, profound, spiritual understanding that, in spite of what any ancient person said…

I am not at the center of the cosmos.

I cannot will things into happening exactly as I would like. My life, at times, feels really broken, and I don’t know how to proceed, and I need to own up to that.

But all of these things, these inner conflicts that I will mostly likely continue to process through here on this blog, are extremely personal and contextual to my own life. I can believe that ADF needs to place a greater emphasis on matters of the heart, matters of the psyche, the soul, with the same level of rigor and intensity that they’ve been looking at academic texts about Celts and Norseman for twenty years, but that’s not what the organization is all about. I can think, “who cares what the ancients did?!” every time it comes up in an ADF e-mail list or Facebook group, but the truth of the matter is that some people do. Very much. That’s very, very important to them.

And I respect that. I don’t want to try and dismantle that, simply because it doesn’t hold much (or any) importance to me.

So I’m choosing to step aside.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Fellowship. There are a number of people who have contributed to the life of this project, including some ADF members on the path to the clergy, and I’d gladly let them take the helm in they feel inspired to do so. If this project — this idea of uniting solitaries of a variety of traditions around a liturgical practice — is something that has a place in the world apart from me, then it will continue to live on.

If not, then it has done its work.

But…

I have different work to do.

Pagan Jesus

I started reading a book yesterday called Contemplative Practices in Action: Spirituality, Meditation, and Health. It’s an academic volume which seeks to demonstrate that contemplative practices have positive affects on the lives of those who engage in them. It’s of personal interest to me for a number of reasons.

First, I would like to see an emergence of a contemplative stream of Pagan practice. I would like to see Pagans, through the lenses of their traditions, build and develop contemplative practices that are both true to their community identity, but also examples of how the Pagan ethea is relevant in the modern world. To some whose tradition already incorporates contemplative-style activities in their group work this shouldn’t seem like much of a stretch. But I’m not sure if they’re identifying what they’re doing as “contemplative practice.”

But aside from my conviction that the modern Pagan movement needs more contemplatives, I was drawn to this book because I feel a need to enrich my own contemplative practice. My writing in recent days has been centered around my own inquiries and doubts, but the current running underneath all of it is a desire to have a deeper and more fulfilling contemplative life.

For an academic text rich with footnotes and references, I was surprised at how quickly I started in on this book. The second chapter, Similarity in Diversity? Four Shared Functions of Integrative Contemplative Practice Systems spelled out a few ideas that immediately made me think about ADF and my Dedicant Path studies (which, truth be told, have all but been ignored over the past long while). The author, Doug Oman, looks at a variety of systems, including The Eight-Point Program of Passage Meditation, Centering Prayer, and Mantra Repetition and outlines four elements or themes present in most of them. A practice system, he asserts, could be considered an integrated contemplative practice if it contains these four common elements:

1. Set-aside time–time that is set aside regularly, usually daily, for a disciplined activity or exercise that has a comparatively powerful effect on training attention.

2. Virtues and character strengths–qualities of character and behavior, such as compassion, forgiveness or fearlessness. … Typically, the recommended qualities involve subsets of six cross-culturally prevalent classes of virtues recently identified by positive psychologists–wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.

3. Practices for centering/stabilizing that are usable through the day–such as during occasions of stress, anxiety, or unstructured time.

4. Spiritual models–attending to the individuals whose behavior reflects desired spiritual qualities–provide a unique resource for spiritual growth. … Attending to spiritual models’ words and actions can motivate sustained practice, and guide or inspire implementation of other spiritual practices. (Oman 8)

(emphasis mine)

This last one, spiritual models, caught my attention.

We don’t have those, I though. Or, at least, I’m not sure there is one particular spiritual model set forth by my tradition to look to for inspiration or guidance. In fact, I’m sure that there isn’t.

I posed these questions on Facebook:

Are Pagan traditions offering the kind of “spiritual modeling” that you might find in, say, Buddhism or Christianity? Do we have spiritual figures — either from history or from myth (or in the fuzzy place in the middle) — that we regularly look to for examples of how to act in the world? If so, who are these folk?

Who do *you* look to for “spiritual modeling”?

The responses were interesting.

Some look to figures like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, or Hypatia. Others see Crowley and Doreen Valiente as figures to look to (both in a historical and in a magickal sense). MLK was mentioned as was Malcolm X, the current Archdruid of ADF, and the heroes of Celtic legend.

Michael York asked, taking us to an archetypally pagan place, “Is not our ultimate spiritual model nature herself?”

All of these things were relevant to the people who offered them, but as I sit with these ideas now I realize that — for me — I need my #4 to be connected more closely to my #2: I need a spiritual model that demonstrates the virtues and character strengths that are meaningful to me.

In my time as Pagan, I’m not sure I’ve found that model.

As a Christian, Jesus was that model for me. While I was always a little uncomfortable by some of the language that accompanied the act of “following Jesus,” especially anything that ascribed to the person of Jesus attributes that seemed little more than projections of the follower, himself, I was still influenced by the example of this man. He was something concrete to look to, even if his life was represented in an incomplete and biased fashion. It was a point of reference, and that was valuable. He wasn’t important because of the “saved soul” factor; he was important because he made it easier for me, personally, to connect my actions to a system of values.

Some people who responded to my questions don’t look to anyone other than themselves. They are their own example; their own spiritual model.

While I respect everyone’s right to develop their religious and spiritual life as they see fit, I don’t think I can serve as my own best example. I need something to look to that is outside of myself, even if in the form of a character in a story or myth, in order to help me better understand the nuances of my own humanity.

The question is, who’s going to by my Pagan Jesus?

 

While talking with my husband I realized that many of the arguments I’ve been making during my conversations with hard polytheists, particularly with Galina Krasskova (read our Facebook chat here and see the post it inspired from her here), are not necessarily reflected in or supported by the evidence of my own practice.

Or, in other words, I think Galina may have been right about a few things that I wasn’t admitting.

First, a regular devotional practice is a good — even great — foundation for a meaningful spiritual life.

Galina, and other hard polytheists I’ve spoken with, put significant value around the development of a devotional practice. If they were proselytizers (which they aren’t, technically) that might be the one message they’re preaching: develop a devotional practice. Do the work.

Act as if, Galina writes.

I’m familiar with the approach. And, in spite of all the things I’ve said in the past week or so, I have benefited from it at times.

My own practice has become much less regular and much less of a devotional practice in recent weeks and months. Interestingly, it stopped being quite so devotional after I had a very profound and palpable encounter with the Morrigan. One might think that there would be even more desire to develop a sturdy, robust devotional practice after something so visceral, but that isn’t how it’s happened and I don’t know why.

The periods in my life as a practicing Pagan that were most rich with spiritual awareness and the sense of connection were times when I had the most consistent and reliable devotional practice. During these times I was also much less concerned with critical thinking as it pertained to things like the nature of the gods, or the logic (or lack thereof) behind my actions. My actions were serving a spiritual purpose. They were keeping me in relationship with the gods.

At least, they were strengthening my personal sense of relationship. I was showing up before the shrine, doing the work, and as a result I felt more connected.

Now, during this period of less engagement with a devotional practice, I feel several things:

For one, I feel as though my critical thinking skills are getting a workout. I’m much more inclined toward objective analysis. That becomes problematic when I’m unable to shut that part of my mind off. My husband reminded me that ritual — like the kind I used to do daily in my devotional practice — can work wonders for shutting that function down for a while. In many ways, that’s ritual’s sole purpose. It prepares us for an encounter with the holy.

But I’ve also experienced a desire to do something different than what I used to do in my devotional practice. I want something less wordy, less structured. I want for something that isn’t so centered around ADF’s cosmology, or language that I’ve crafted for the Fellowship. This desire for fewer words comes, I think, from the fact that words are what tend to send my mind into an overactive frenzy.

For as much as I find liturgy to be valuable, especially when it comes to the regular celebration of High Days, in my daily practice I think I want something a little more formless. I’m not sure what that looks like, or how much it would resemble any kind of devotional practice.

I think, though, that the first step is to start listening more than I speak. I’ve been doing a lot of outward-focused work, and the ideas are flowing quite steadily in that direction. But it may be time to reverse the flow. It may be time for more listening.

I stumbled across this image, The Tree of Contemplative Practices, while searching out contemplative practices. It was published on the website of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, an organization that seeks to incorporate more contemplative practices into higher ed. In my ongoing pursuit to discover what a distinctly Pagan contemplative practice might look like, I find that this illustration demonstrates that there are many, many ways of developing a contemplative practice. As I wrote in my last post, cultivating a devotional practice may be one way to do that, but I feel the need to give myself permission to explore other ways of achieving the same state of awareness.

Perhaps beginning with one of these branches is a start.

© The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society Concept & design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman

© The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Concept & design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman

Have you found any of these practices to be relevant and meaningful in your personal spiritual journey? Perhaps they naturally fit into your religious tradition, as with the “Ceremonies and rituals” branch. But what about Silence? Storytelling? Deep listening? I know that I “bear witness” quite often on this site, and I like the idea that it may be a component of my own contemplative practice as a Pagan.

Tell me:

What do you reach for on The Tree of Contemplative Practices?

devotion

What, I wonder, are the differences between a contemplative practice and a devotional practice?

I’ve read a lot about devotional polytheism this morning. I read Galina Krassova’s first installment of her Fundamentals of Polytheism series, “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Theories,” and Galina places a great deal of focus on the development of a devotional practice. Many hard-polytheists I know in ADF do a similar thing.

Even in the Solitary Druid Fellowship we have devotionals, but those devotionals (I think) are very different than the kind of devotionals that Galina might be speaking of.

The first half of the SDF’s Morning Devotional reads like this:

I am one and we are many. Fellowship, in solitude.
Here I stand to greet the sun
And welcome in the morning light.

In my mind and in my body,
I hold space in solitude
For all of those who walk alone.
May they find comfort on this day.

And may the day unfold in peace,
And may this peace be born within,
And may my heart be set ablaze,
That I might shine into the world.

This is not language which supports a devotional practice with a specific deity, per se. This devotional is humanistic in nature. It centers around the human experience. When I wrote this devotional it seemed like the only way to create something that would be relevant and usable to solitaries of many different paths was to focus on what would be meaningful to the person, rather than focus on what one person (or tradition) thinks is meaningful to a god.

That said, ADF’s cosmology is present in the devotional:

I honor this fire.
The fire of the gods.
The gods of my heart.
The gods of this land.
May I come to know the mystery
Of the divine in all its forms.

I honor this water.
The water of the ancestors.
Ancestors of blood.
Ancestors of spirit.
May I understand the knowledge
Of the wise and ancient ones.

I honor this tree.
This living body.
This sacred plant,
With roots and leaves.
May I feel the spirits of nature,
And be one with all the earth.

This language is heavily symbolic, and open to interpretation. For some, “the gods of my heart” is too general. Or, perhaps it is inaccurate to their understanding of what the gods are or how they function. To me, this language makes space for the archetypalist and the hard polytheist, for either might use the idea of a “place in one’s heart” as a sign of deep connection and devotion. The rest of the language seeks to put one in a state of awareness and mindfulness of their ancestors and the living earth that surrounds them.

But again, it’s all about the awareness and interpretation of the individual.

The SDF’s use of devotionals seeks to ground people in their own conscious practice, not to place them in “right relationship” with the gods in any particular way. My intention was not to dictate to anyone what “right relationship to the gods” might even mean, but to instead trust that if they first sink into a deep and meaningful practice (even one that lacks a clear focus on any specific deity), that they will be led to the spiritual awareness that is most appropriate for them. They might come to know what value the concept of “right relationship” has in their own life and practice.

Perhaps, then, a contemplative practice can spring forth from a devotional practice if one makes the space for a certain degree of unknowing.

Galina emphasizes the importance of knowing in the context of her practice, and while she distinguishes that experience of knowing from “faith,” the two still look similar from where I sit.

To me, the statement “I have faith that the Gods are real” would be more compelling than “The Gods are real,” if for no other reason but that the former emphasizes the human element, while the latter does not.

I love the human element. I have to begin with the human element first, and from that place open up to something beyond my field of vision.

And that’s just where my temperament leads me. It isn’t to say that I’m correct, or that Galina is not. There is, I think we’d both agree, a distinct difference in what we do in our religious lives — and why we do it.

But regardless of our differences, there may be some common ground in emphasizing the value of a devotional practice. We may have different ideas that inform why we think a devotional practice is important — hers’ being that it beings the devotee in right relationship with the Gods, and mine being that it encourages contemplation — but we might be able to agree that one grows in their religious and spiritual life by doing things, just as much (if not more) than by simply thinking things.

And for me, contemplation is right action.

 

John Halstead doesn’t mess around. When he writes, he means business.

Just read his exposition on the most recent explosion of discussion and debate among Pagans and polytheists over superheroes and gods and you’ll know what I mean.

John has a tremendous intellect, and when he writes on Allergic Pagan about the in’s and out’s of theology and praxis he uses that intellect to shed light on the intricacies of what we Pagans, polytheists or non-identified pagan-like-folk do.

When John writes, I listen.

So I took notice when I read the term, “soul-centered” in the list of links at the bottom of his superhero post. I followed the link and found the 3rd of a three-part series from June of 2012 on his evolving sense of Pagan identity entitled, Soul-Centered Paganism.

I read it, and something in me hollered out,

YES!

This.

Work with this.

John doesn’t outline a system for what soul-centered Paganism might look like in practice, but he does provide this useful venn diagram. (And don’t we all love those?)

john halstead - 3-centers-revised3

 

But even without a full breakdown of how soul-centered Paganism might function in practical terms, he does unpack how the term came into existence and how it may be able to connect the earth-centered and Self-centered (or Self-centric) expressions within Paganism:

The writings of Carl Jung, James Hillman, Theodore Roszak (who coined the term “eco-psychology”), and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin, have helped me reconcile these two paths — at least theoretically.  From these authors, I have developed a conception of nature and psyche which tries to overcome the dualism inherent in traditional understandings of these concepts.

Conceptually, I understand nature and psyche (or soul) as two different perspectives on the same thing.  Step one is to propose that “nature” includes not only our physical bodies, but also that thing which we call mind, including consciousness and the unconscious.  That is a proposition, I think, that would be easy for most religious naturalists to accept.

Step two is to reverse the principle: Just as nature extends “within” to include the psyche, so psyche extends “without” to include nature.  James Hillman describes psyche (soul), not as something inside of us, but as something that we are “inside” of.  Psyche extends beyond our individual mind to include other people and all of nature.  Hence, Hillman can speak of “a psyche the size of the earth”.

Bill Plotkin calls this ecopsychological perspective a “soul-centered” approach.  A “soul-centered” Paganism can potentially combine the earth-centric drive to connect to the more-than-human world with the Self-centric search for greater wholeness, the two being facets of the same drive.  From the “soul-centered” perspective, both earth-centered and Self-centered Paganism seek a transcendence of the ego and a transpersonal wholeness.

(emphasis mine)

John, admittedly, doesn’t flush out much of how a deity-centric perspective is factored into it the soul-centered model, but that doesn’t bother me. There’s time for that, I think. What I’m most interested in is the way in which this mediation on perspective (as it relates to the psyche/soul and to nature) brings with it a new, nuanced perspective on the meaning of relationship.

So much of the discussion I’ve seen about “right relationship” with the gods uses the term “relationship” in very much the way that one might speak of a relationship with a human being (or, a being that, while not human, behaves in similar ways that a human might behave). In this way, one “develops relationship,” or “works on their relationship” with the divine. (Some Christians use a similar language when they talk about having a “personal relationship with God.”)

But when you start to wrap your imagination around relationship as something more spacial or dynamic, like the relationship between notes on a scale or frequencies within a spectrum of sound, there is this thing that (at least for me) happens in the mind.

It’s a kind of breaking open.

That and the term, “psyche the size of the earth” — what are the implications of that? Is that not a language of interconnectedness that is worth greater exploration?

John continues that,

Jung wrote that we need to “reconcile ourselves to the mysterious truth that the spirit is the life of the body seen from within, and the body the outward manifestation of the life of the spirit – the two being really one”.  I understand “nature” to be psyche seen from without and “psyche” to be nature seen from within.  Thus, “nature” is everything inside and out of me when viewed from an objective perspective, whereas “psyche” is everything inside and outside of me when viewed from a subjective perspective.

(emphasis mine)

Again, my brain go break.

For anyone who wants to suggest that the application of one’s intellect necessarily leads one away from spiritual awakening or divine knowledge, I’d have them spend some time in meditation with John’s work. His process is thorough, his conclusions are reasonable, and yet he never makes the mistake of asserting that he has uncovered THE truth about a thing.

His practice is, in part, his process.

As I said, John chose not to articulate how deity-centric thought and practice might intersect with these other two categories for the formation of a soul-centered Paganism. He writes in the comments of his post that

As I was writing though, it did occur to me that all three “centers” are seeking a connection to some form of “otherness”: earth-centered types find this otherness in nature; Self-centered types find it in the deep (personal) psyche; and I think deity-centered types seek it in deities which are conceived as literally other. My problem with the deity-centered approach is that, as I understand it, it places that otherness outside of nature, or at least outside of natural phenomena — which is a problem from my naturalistic perspective — and outside of the Self — which is a problem from my post-Christian perspective.

Must the deity-centered approach place the “otherness” with which we may be seeking a connection outside of nature or the Self? Is there a way to understand or unpack the position of deity as a “natural phenomena” that allows an understanding of the divine that is interwoven with our experience of the soul and nature?

I’m not sure I have the answer to those questions. But for now, I’m borrowing this term, soul-centered, as a way of understanding my own Paganism. Add to that my inclination toward contemplation as a spiritual practice, and I think you may have the making of the “what I am” that I was seeking to identify in my last post.

Flow

This is less a journal of my proclamations as it is a record of my process.

I am figuring it out as I go.

If you think you’ve already got it figured out, my writing may likely rub you the wrong way.

Over the past several days I’ve been in the midst of what my husband identified as a “post-modern dilemma.” Everything is up in the air, it seems. Nothing feels grounded, or imbued with clear and certain purpose. Relevance is fuzzy. I find myself looking at the sea of ideas before me and thinking, “But what’s the point? What of all this is actually meaningful?

My husband, who listens patiently as my heart-rate and pitch climb in tandem, suggested that I work a little to hash out my beliefs. My own beliefs.

Not the architecture of the system I’m operating in. Not the beliefs of most ADF Druids, or the beliefs of hard and soft polytheists, monists, superhero-devotees or chaos magicians.

Mine.

When I recently told a new acquaintance, who has been active in the Pagan community for a long time, that Pagans were a “people of practice, more so than a people of belief,” she said,

“Are you kidding me? Really? Pagans concerned with practice? That’s not been my experience.”

Perhaps we’re not what I think we are.

I don’t talk about belief much. I dodge the questions, sometimes. My mother asked me what I believed during a conversation about me being a Pagan, and I tried to give her a general overview of the things that Pagans believe.

It was a total cop-out.

I think most of us avoid talking about belief. When we do talk about it, we run the risk of being barked at, being told we’re wrong, being alienated, or being scolded. Beliefs, Ian Corrigan once told me, are just opinions. I’m not sure I agree with him. Beliefs feel more intimate than opinions. Beliefs nudge up against the places where we’re most vulnerable.

So what do I believe?

I’m going to give it a go at explaining it here. I’ll write without stopping for three minutes and see what happens.

Ready…

Go.

 ____________

I believe that we’re all connected. I believe that the human heart is king, and that the focus on the divine over the human is a mistake. I believe it’s backwards to establish a religion that’s based on the gods first, because we are human, and the act of being human is all we have to reference. We cannot be certain about much of anything, and to build a religious practice around the things that we are least certain about seems foolish, and fearful in a way.

I believe that it’s easier to be dogmatic than to be honest about the things you don’t know. I believe that there are people in every religious tradition who want to assert that they know what the gods want, and that a lot of hard polytheists are the ones doing that now. I believe that the hard polytheists who are railing against the soft and fluffy Pagans are sounding a lot like the monotheists that many of them detest so much.

I believe that I’m Pagan, but sometimes I think that I’m more of a lowercase “p” pagan; that my religious life is a construct, an artifice, a choice.

I believe that if we all were more aware that what we’re doing in our religious life is a choice, we might be a little less inclined to lash out at one another when we realize they’ve made a different choice than we have.

I believe that every idea we have about the divine is a choice. I believe that hard polytheism is a choice, as is soft polytheism and all the other -isms. I believe that it’s right to acknowledge that because your religious life is a choice, there is a possibility that your views are not completely accurate.

I believe that accuracy is not the most important component of a religious life.

I believe that authenticity is more important than accuracy.

I believe that if your tradition is not fostering something authentic in you, you should leave. Or stay, if you feel that staying and working to represent yourself is authentic.

I believe that the seed of wisdom is in all of us, and if there was anything that was like the God that I knew as a child, it is this. It may not be sentient, and it may not be the creator of the universe, but there is something in my heart that is like the thing in your heart, and if this thing could be awakened in us, we might recognize it in each other.

I believe that everything we do in our life should foster the awakening of that seed of fire in our hearts.

Everything.

 ____________

Ok. That was more like 7 minutes.

My first question, which seems a little funny to me, is:

What does that make me?

Somehow I’m conditioned to be something, and I’m not sure that’s the point.

I am expression.

I am caught up in the flow.

That’s what I am.

And, sustaining that — being the expression of this long list of things I believe — seems like the truest task ever set before me.

Photo by Jennuine Captures

Photo by Jennuine Captures

I think that hard polytheism is incomplete.

I think that there is an underlying unity in all things that hard polytheism — at least, the hard polytheism I see presented most often within my own tradition, ADF — does not take into account. This became clear to me when I began to read Saraswati Rain’s thesis, Spiritual Direction in Paganism.

She outlines the variety of ways that Pagans might view “‘God’ the Concept”, and for the first time aspecting made a certain kind of sense to me. It wasn’t that it made sense because I accept it in the way it’s often discussed (i.e. every God/dess is in fact just another name for THE God/dess). This new understanding felt more nuanced.

Looking at her overview, and thinking about my own personal experiences of Deity throughout my life, the idea of an underlying unity makes sense. The natural world demonstrates as much. Nothing exists in complete isolation of anything else. All things, on some level, are interconnected.

And yet when I think about how hard polytheism has been presented to me I do not find any evidence of this interconnectedness.

The Gods, I’ve been told, are unique, distinct beings. They have unique, distinct consciousnesses, and they behave in ways that are unique to themselves. In the imagination, one begins to think that the realm of the Gods is not unlike a human-made nation state. There are boundaries, there are cultural markers, and there is a clear sense of separation between that which exists in one nation and another. The Gods of one celestial nation state behave in one way, while the Gods of another behave in a different way.

The more I sit with this idea, the more it begins to feel false; like a man-made construction; a projection of our social structures onto the ethereal.

I don’t discount the possibility of a multiplicity of divine consciousnesses. I just don’t think they’re so distinct from one another as we might think. (I also don’t think that you and I, as humans, are that distinct from one another, either.)

So aspecting might be begin to reach toward a way of thinking about these distinct, divine consciousnesses that not only connects them to us and to each other, but back to something even greater than them. This earlier/larger/more foundational greatness might be what some mystics speak of when they talk about God or Spirit. Both of those words fall short, but they at least reach for a quality of expansiveness that I don’t hear spoken about in many polytheist circles.

In talking this through with my husband, he brought up the Perennial Philosophy. A brief history, according to Wikipedia:

The Perennial Philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis), also referred to as Perennialism, is a perspective within the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown.

The term philosophia perennis was first used by Agostino Steuco(1497–1548), drawing on the neo-Platonic philosophy of Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94).

In the early 19th century this idea was popularised by the Transcendentalism. By the end of the 19th century it was further popularized by the Theosophical Society, under the name of “Wisdom-Religion” or “Ancient Wisdom”. In the 20th century it was popularized in the English speaking world through Aldous Huxley’s book The Perennial Philosophy as well as the strands of thought which culminated in the New Age movement.

It goes on to say that,

Although the sacred scriptures of the world religions are undeniably diverse and often superficially oppose each other, there is discernible running through each a common doctrine regarding the ultimate purpose of human life. This doctrine is mystical in as far as it views the summum bonum of human life as an experiential union with the supreme being that can only be achieved by undertaking a programme of physical and mental purification.

Aldous Huxley defines the Perennial Philosophy as:

[…] the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical to, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being; the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the perennial philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.

Here’s my question:

Is the Perennial Philosophy antithetical to the founding principles of ADF Druidry? What about hard polytheism, in general?

I’m uncertain as to whether I accept Perennialism whole-heartedly, but it accounts for the “the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being,” and that matters to me. This universalism allows for a broader engagement in ministry and outreach that also matters to me.

Could this be the thing that is missing from hard polytheism? Is the absence of some kind of principle of interconnected one-ness, in both a physical and metaphysical sense, a detriment to the hard polytheist?

Photo by Noël Zia Lee

Photo by Noël Zia Lee

Yesterday I realized that I have what you might call, “Christian baggage.”

To many, this will come as no surprise. It’s been said as much on post after post, and in the occasional Pagan forum thread. In response, I always said that I didn’t think that label was fair. Most times I think I was correct. To write about or reflect on my Christian past is not, in my opinion, the same thing as having baggage.

Reflection is not baggage. Contemplation is not baggage.

But what happened yesterday was different. In a conversation with my husband about my knee-jerk reaction to a kind, innocuous comment left on my post about going to church by the very priest who gave the inspirational sermon I spoke of, I realized that when I was a Christian I believed — on some level — that my paradigm was the correct paradigm.

By that I mean that when we affirmed in the Creed that there was “one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth…” we were affirming something that was true. It must be true, I thought, even if only in some mysterious, esoteric manner beyond my comprehension, in order for the whole thing (the Gospel, the Jesus, the God) to have meaning.

Also, if my paradigm was true, that meant that other paradigms, if they were different, were not true. For example, if there was only one God, there were not two. If God was the creator of all things, there were no other creators.

Plain and simple.

As I unpacked these ideas I recognized a rigidity within me that I never knew I had. Even if I hadn’t held up cardboard signs proclaiming that my truth was the one and only truth, I stood up in church every weekend and reinforced the idea that my truth was the one and only truth.

Now, there are those for whom the Creed does not serve this purpose: the words are spoken, but not necessarily law. Converts to a creedal tradition, for example, might be capable of taking a more objective stance to their newfound credal affirmations. For them, the value in speaking the Creed aloud might simply be in the strengthening of the group bond.

But as a “cradle Episcopalian,” a child who was speaking “I believe” statements before I could understand what those “I believe” statements even meant, those words have carved a deep groove in me. Even when I no longer speak them, their echo is still present.

My husband suggested that perhaps we re-write the Creed, just as an exercise. Maybe that would release some of its hold on my psyche.

It might start something like…

We believe in this one god,

A father, kind of almighty,

One of the makers of heaven and earth,

Of some things, seen and unseen….

To creedal Christians reading this blog (and I’m not sure there are many of you), I mean no disrespect by this re-write. It isn’t for you, it’s for me. Adjusting the language allowed me to laugh at my own inner rigidity. Speaking these new words out loud made it feel like the old words are in fact not law, but rather one of many ways of believing.

In that moment, there was plurality.

2...3...4? Photo by Paul Gorbould

2…3…4?
Photo by Paul Gorbould

My friend William, an ADF Druid, reminds me often that dualism — the view that the universe is divided into opposites like good/evil, right/wrong, heaven/hell — undergirds much of our Western thinking. Even if we profess to be pluralists, we still fall back on dualism as a default. Just look back on all of the conversations we’ve had about Pagan v.s. Polytheist. That’s dualism right there. The entire firestorm about gender-exclusive ritual can be seen as a biproduct of dualistic thinking (i.e. we are either male or female — end of story).

Perhaps dualism is my Christian baggage.

If that is true (or if it is one of many truths), what do I do with that information?

How does one take apart dualism? By introducing a third way? How do you hold the tension for more than two, opposite ways of thinking, being, or doing? How, I wonder, do I work to develop an ongoing personal practice that is relevant to me without slipping into a perspective that holds up my practice as the right way?

Have you stared your own dualism in the face? What did you see? How did you respond?

How do I know I’m a Pagan?

I mean, really

I had this thought after my unexpected visit to church. I also had this thought after I returned home from Beltania, the Colorado Beltane gathering I attended and presented at over my birthday weekend. It may seem strange that I would question my Pagan identity after a Pagan gathering, but that’s what happened.

Don’t get me wrong — I had fun. I mean, I erected a giant phallus after all. The festival provided a sense of community for the Pagans who attended, and it was clear that most everybody was having a great time. Joy Burton and the Living Earth Center crew worked their butts off putting this thing together, and they deserve a huge congratulations. But on a personal level, I walked away feeling like most of what I experienced — the culture of it all — was simply not my cup of tea.

Perhaps it was the Wiccan-centric nature of the gathering that made me feel a little out of place. Or maybe I just had Lonely Druid Complex. It certainly wasn’t anyone else’s fault, though. The festival did exactly what it was supposed to do. It’s become a very important part of the Colorado (and surrounding states) Pagan community, and I’m glad I went.

But when I got home I couldn’t quite remember what it felt like to be a part of ADF, or even to be a practicing Pagan. It was like I didn’t know what path I was on any more.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Then, this morning, I did ritual.

I did a full fledged, bells and whistles ritual. My shrine was fresh and new after an impulse yesterday afternoon to rearrange it, so I lit a candle and some charcoal and began.

I did my Paganism.

And that’s how I know. That’s how I know I’m a Pagan.

I know by doing.

I am through the doing.

My beliefs, opinions, ideas and thoughts move fluidly from one shape to another, never solidifying into something hard or rigid. (Who wants ideas with hard edges? I don’t.) But my practice, a practice that I’ve been developing for years, is the foundation of my Paganism.

It is informed by my mystical experiences, by my meditative inquiries, and by my upbringing. This ritual of mine is about as close to an Episcopal service as you might find from any Pagan (well… short of the drumming mid-way through). My home practice informs my perspectives about festivals, and church services, and dialogues about deity, and all the other things that cross my path.

Mine is a religious practice of relationship. Ghosti is the word used in ADF to define this ancient understanding of reciprocal relationship, and the need for relationship is real. I maintain relationship with my practice in order to maintain relationship with the Kindred — the Gods of my heart and of this place, the Spirits of the world around me, and my Ancestors. These relationships inform my other relationships, which circle back to inform my ritual…

It’s a series of cascading circles of reverence and sacredness.

Photo by Claudio Alejandro Mufarrege

Photo by Claudio Alejandro Mufarrege

I’m happy to discover after a brief dry spell that I am still very much a Pagan; still very much an ADF Druid. It turns out it wasn’t really an identity crisis, but just a moment of pause.

Should I begin to question again, I will light my fire, burn my charcoal, and see how the doing of my Paganism affects my perspective.

What about you?

Have you experienced this sense of disconnect from your path? Was there an event that made you wonder if you were still a Pagan? Where did you go from there? How did you reconcile yourself to that experience, and do you still identify as a Pagan now?

20130505-092328.jpgI went to church last night.

It was the first time I’d been to church since I left the Church.

Taking in an evening mass, done up to the 9’s with incense and vestments, was something I hadn’t planned to do while visiting Eugene, Oregon, nor was it an invitation I expected to receive from my friend, Jason Pitzl-Waters. His wife attends this congregation, and yesterday just happened to be the first time he was going to venture with her. He extended the welcome to me, and I gladly joined them both.

I’m not sure I was prepared for what I experienced.

Something pagan was present at this church service (other than the Druid in the back row). The priest spoke about the liturgical calendar, and how this Sunday — today — would be a day when the church recognized a pre-Christian, Roman agricultural holiday.

A pagan holiday.

How perfect, I thought.

(God… are you behind this?)

There was a god in that place last night. It wasn’t the only one – I think they’re wrong about that. But there was a god, nonetheless.

I stood and sat at the appropriate moments during the service, and I recognized in an intimate way the rhythm of the ritual. This was an Episcopal church, after all, and the Episcopal church was my home for so many years. I felt relevance, harmony, but a certain dissonance, too. It was neither all good nor all bad, and I’m not sure why I thought it would be either of those things. That was not the Church I knew. Being a Christian was always mixed and complicated.

I held back from full engagement with the liturgy, because full engagement felt disingenuous. I didn’t feel comfortable reciting the creed, nor did I say the Lord’s Prayer. I felt detached during the hymns, hype-aware that the messages were designed to tear down animism and build up hierarchical monotheism. The sermon was engaging and inspiring, but it was followed by kneeling and submitting to a dogma that I don’t believe in.

And yet, when I heard a small child sing along to one of the mantra-like songs after the Eucharist, I almost cried.

I was that child.

And what am I now?

That question lingered long after the service, and into this morning. I sit here in this little cafe, compelled to write again on the blog that I put on hiatus, because I was reminded last night that the inner world is complicated and worth unpacking. This blog is the venue in which I seek to answer that question again and again, and it’s time to return to that dialogue.

The short answer is this:

I am all of the things I have ever been. I continue to be them, in one way or another. Nothing is ever fully released from the heart. It’s all there, tattoo-like. Those old parts of you call out and say, We’re still here: your memories; your long, lost hopes; your visions of truth; your doubts — all of it. All here, still intact, inked into the inner flesh.

My Christianity gave me my first introduction to reverence, mystery, humility and community. It encouraged me to recognize that there was nothing in the world that was not touched by the divine. It inspired me to care deeper, to give generously, and to seek out new, creative ways to serve others.

I bring all of those attributes with me to my work with the Solitary Druid Fellowship. Were it not for the Church, and for those many people who were inspired by Jesus to serve others in love, I wouldn’t be writing liturgies for Pagans.

(Chew on that one for a minute.)

I walk the path of a modern Druid, but one whose ethics were first informed by bells-and-whistles Christianity. I can never not be this person.

And I’m ok with that.

I think I’m going to go back this morning, just to see if I might talk with the priest for a moment — one religious man to another. They’re going to have bagpipes today, and they plan to process around the church in a big circle (clockwise, no doubt), and bless the seeds and livestock.

It may just be the most pagan service I will ever attend.

Juggler

Bishop In The Grove needs to go on a temporary hiatus.

These are the words that popped into my head yesterday. As soon as I heard them, I knew they were true.

Blame it on the New Moon.

I’ve had the feeling for a little while that something needed to give. I’m a decent juggler (3 oranges, no more), but the message was clear:

DO LESS.

My schedule has been quite full lately. Between my contributions to The Wild Hunt, my seasonal entries to HuffPost, my work for the Solitary Druid Fellowship, and the small pile of books that have come my way via Witches and Pagans to review (not to mention Thorn’s book that we’re tweeting about on a daily basis), I’ve been stretched pretty thin.

Then yesterday hits. I take a meeting, and during the meeting I realize that a dream project is staring me straight in the face. A quiet voice inside says,

This opportunity is yours, if you’re willing to do the work.

And I’m willing. I knew that instantly. I want to do this. I’m uniquely qualified for the work, and excited at the challenge.

So, the blog needs a break because I need to be less divided.

The Morrigan’s presence in my life continues to reveal itself.

(What will you fight for? When will you take up your sword? When will you lay it down?) 

I’m not giving up everything, though. That doesn’t feel right to do.

Here’s what I’m imagining:

  • I give myself as long a break as I need from writing on BITG. During this time, when I feel the impulse to write about my thoughts on practice, Paganism, or anything that might fit naturally in the archive, I’ll write about it in a document entitled, “Book.”
  • I keep writing liturgies and devotionals for the Solitary Druid Fellowship. The next will be up in a week or so. Doing service work is soul food, really.
  • I continue as a contributor to The Wild Hunt and HuffPost.
  • I read books when they move me, and not accept any more for review. It’s so hard to turn down a book, but I need to get better at it.
  • I love on my family, celebrate my soon-to-be 18 year old kid, and spend time doing things that make us feel strong and happy.
  • I make music happen.

As plans go, I think this is a good one.

While I’m away, make sure you’re following the Bishop In The Grove feed. If you choose to get your posts by email, you’ll receive my next post directly in your inbox. I highly recommend doing that.

And please know how much I appreciate you. This community of readers has helped me gain clarity in so many ways. I look forward to more conversations with you.

See you real soon.

Teo

P.S. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Sometimes I post pictures of me in kilts. You won’t want to miss that.

 

Photo by Markus Lütkemeyer

To those participating in the Bishop In The Grove’s Bookclub reading of T. Thorn Coyle’s Make Magic of Your Life, join me on Twitter throughout the month of April and engage in a Twitter dialogue about the questions raised in this book. Be sure to @reply with the hashtag, #MakeMagic and Thorn’s handle, @ThornCoyle.

Now, onto today’s BITG post…

The Intersection of the Myth and the Meaning

Hot Cross Buns

My husband and I were standing in the kitchen, preparing a meal to take to my grandmother’s house for Easter. We were talking about the difference between Easter and Christmas, and how he had always preferred Christmas.

He talked about how the Jesus of Christmas and the Jesus of Easter seemed like two different people. To him, the lead-up to Christmas was always so intense and exciting, filled with anticipation. And the payoff, the birth of Christ, spoke to something wonderful about humanity. It was the moment in the myth when the divine became humble.

I’d never thought of it that way.

I proceeded to explain to him why Easter had always been more important to me than Christmas.

Easter brought into clarity how humans like me were in relationship with God. As a Christian, it made my station clear. It made the need for Jesus clear. It brought home the reason for being a Christian: reconciliation to God, and reconciliation to ourselves about our imperfect nature.

[Side note #1: I no longer hold this belief.]

Perhaps most importantly, Easter made the Christian myth relevant in the world. It provided me a way of applying the myth in my life. It said, “This thing happened, and because this thing happened you can better understand yourself. You can now go into the world and better understand the nature of the world.” Lent, the season preceding Easter, was equally important for me because it rooted the myth into my personal life, and encouraged in me a deep reflection on the parts of myself I often avoid acknowledging.

Christmas, on the other hand, was less visceral for me. Funny, right? Christmas is all about incarnation; about the divine being made human through birth — the most visceral act. Yet it did not feel as immediate or as potent as the Easter myth. Easter was about the complexity of humanity. Holy Week, even, provided all of these opportunities to reflect on the ways in which, in spite of all of our virtues, human beings do ghastly things to one another. It forced me to looks at my own potential for complicity in hatred and cruelty. It was humbling.

[Side note #2: It would be incorrect to dismiss this exploration of what Easter or Christmas meant to me in my early Christian life as “Christian baggage.” Having conversation about our past, or engaging with the stories which have been relevant to us at different times is not “baggage.” The term is reductive. I think we can be bigger than that.]

When I think about my proclivity toward inquiry about different ethical, and perhaps even moral convictions within the Pagan community, it is not because I believe in replicating a Christian-like, sin-based, transactional model of interaction with the divine; rather, it is because I have always believed that the stories you tell about the gods you worship need to be relevant in the world you live in. They must be more than just stories. They must have application.

I was never an advocate of literalism in the Church. I thought that was missing the point. The stories of Easter didn’t need to actually happen in order for them to be important or applicable. They could be symbolic while still being relevant.

And the point is that they were. Relevant.

So when I write about Pagan bubbles, or the effects of casting circle, or the function of love within a Pagan paradigm, I’m doing so because I am a person whose initial religious identity was heavily influenced by the idea that one’s religion must inform how they understand themselves in the world. I’m sure there are plenty of Pagans who can explain how their religious practices and mythologies directly influence their engagement with the world, and I’d like to hear from you here.

While the m-word (morality) may reek of wine and wafers and be stained with a duality that makes many of us cringe (myself included), the intersection of the myth and the meaning is where morality is born.

Is that correct? Can you find a way to phrase that last part more accurately?

But that’s beside the point of the original realization. Easter meant more to me because it made my myth into something I could apply in my life while informing me of my relationship to God. I may now see divinity as something different than I did then (and I do), but I still long to find, uncover, or create stories which make a similar connection. I’m not interested in finding the exact right one (I don’t think such a thing exists), but I am on a quest for meaning.

It all has to mean something, or it means nothing.

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