I believe our lives here are an ongoing learning experience. We are constantly confronted with things which may challenge our perceptions or make us see things in a new light. Because of that, we ourselves, are ever changing. I am not who I was yesterday, or 5 years ago or 20 years ago in many regards. I have seen, learned and experienced things which have shaped me and my world view over time. This is true for any one of us who is still breathing today. Perhaps it is true even for those who have crossed the veil, I can’t be certain. Because of this, views I may have once held are no longer the views I hold today.
Case in point. Early in the founding of my temple and later as my sisters and I came together to form Spirit Of the Sycamore tradition, I was dead set against the idea of establishing a syllabus for our clergy training program, advocating instead for a more open forum approach harkening to the ancient philosophers who would sit in a circle and ponder various mysteries together, sharing in one another’s wisdom. I still feel each and every one of us brings something unique to the table. Everyone stands to learn something from someone else. Even the University Professor might not know a thing that the Janitor knows.
But people like structure. Structure makes us feel secure. It gives us a framework to hold on to and feel grounded when the winds of change are blowing at gale force. People have been asking for more and more framework and structure so we’ve been working to provide it while trying to balance it with our desire to be as open and eclectic as our sensibilities will allow for. Of course there will be lines. There are always lines. But, like most things, it is an ever evolving thing. Life is an unending cycle of changes after all. Some things I have said in recent posts apparently rubbed a few people the wrong way. What exactly I suppose I may never know other than I was informed that I got the year wrong for the Summer Of Love (which occurred one year before I was born by the way). I suspect some of it might have to do with some of my views on politics, environmental issues or reasons I distanced myself for awhile from some organizations and the community in general. I didn’t go in to all of the reasons by the way. That was a rough period of time for me on a personal level too. It was the year my mom spent many months in the hospital dying of pancreatic cancer before succumbing to it in March of 2009. That experience also changed me.
But the reasons I will never know about are because of a few people who just silently unfriended me on ye ol’ book of face. Oh, we’re not talking about people who have been a fixture in my life in a tangible sense. One of them, I haven’t seen since my now 8 year old son was still in a stroller. Another always has had a cold air about them whenever in my presence for as long as I can remember. I have another friend with whom I agree most of the time but once in awhile we are diametrically opposed. Especially when it comes to political viewpoints. Usually, when this happens she politely but unwaveringly states her own opinion of the matter and we discuss (Discuss, not debate, not cuss one another out and call each other names, but discuss.) it for a bit. Maybe we’ll end up agreeing and maybe we won’t. But we don’t stop being friends over it. That’s my point. Friends discuss things with one another. If someone can’t do that, then maybe they weren’t really a friend to begin with? That’s my thought on the matter anyway. That and 5 bucks might get you a decent cup of coffee. 😉
I’ve written in the past about some things I have seen that I can’t readily prove to anyone. Encounters with a goddess, magickal creatures in and around my home, voices in the woods from spirits of the departed, etc. Some refer to things like this as visions, others may call them revelations but what ever you choose to call them, many people have them but even more people do not. Among those who have not had such experiences, some are skeptical and others more open minded. In a few cases I think there are people who lean too far one way or the other on that skeptical to open-minded scale. It’s good to have a healthy amount of skepticism and to apply critical thinking to any situation.
I recently read ‘When A Pagan Prays’ by Nimue Brown which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend to anyone interested in learning from her journey to establish a habit of prayer in her spiritual practice as a Druid. She makes some statements in her book though that make it clear that she hasn’t had an Unverified Person Gnosis (or at least at the time of her writing the book she hadn’t. ) She said that in this modern age people consider you mad if you make proclamations of hearing the voices of gods and throw you into the loony bin. I admit, it certainly raises some eyebrows in some circles but it’s not that uncommon a claim.
One famous case was when Oral Roberts stated “…God said, ‘I want you to use the ORU medical school to put My medical presence in the earth. I want you to get this going in one year or I will call you home!’” Did he really receive this message from his lord and savior? Admittedly, I have always been dubious of the claim but no one threw him into the loony bin for making it. In fact, people sent him money as I recall. But his is just one of many cases. Granted, some of these claims might be made by charlatans, some might have had a hallucination of some sort or their mind otherwise played a trick on them. A million different things are possible. Who is to say really?
I think I’ve spoken before about how fond I am of the movie ‘Contact’ which was an adaptation of Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel. Jodie Foster’s character, Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, goes on a journey in which she has an experience that is difficult to explain to others and for which there is no proof…other than the 18 hours of static recorded by her video camera which is discreetly revealed at the end, only after she has been thoroughly grilled over her testimony in the inquiry which followed her mission which everyone else considers to have been a failure because all the rest of the world saw was a ball falling through an energy field over the course of a few seconds. She had no way of transferring that experience which she had to another human being other than to tell her story. There were no pictures, no recordings, no artifacts to show as proof. That’s kind of the way it is for those of us who have had a brush with Unverified Personal Gnosis. It’s not like we get a calling card to show as proof. Gods, spirits and creatures of other realms of existence don’t sign autographs as near as I can tell. We only have our stories to tell and people will either believe or disbelieve as they choose. There is no scientifically proven method by which one can repeatedly, reproduce an experience such as this. Sometimes, some people just have them.
Now, an interesting point came up as I was talking with one of my temple sisters recently. Prior to my very first experience of the divine being which I have come to call simply “The Goddess” I considered myself an agnostic. I wasn’t actively praying to anyone, making offerings, meditating or anything at all like that. I had not consumed a large quantity of alcohol or any other mind altering substances that night. In fact, I have never in my life tried any psychotropic drugs to this day. By that I mean things like psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, peyote or things like that. As I have said before I pretty much just drink occasionally and have only very rarely used marijuana. So, I don’t attribute my experiences to those things although I wouldn’t necessarily discount the experiences of those who have. Shamans have used such substances to produce these experiences for a reason after all. I do believe the mind needs to be in a receptive state before these experiences happen and those methods are one way of getting there. Historically, meditation, trance drumming, dancing and fasting have also been found to bring the mind to this state. I advocate meditation nowadays because I find it to be an effective practice for me on many fronts. It makes me feel more relaxed and calm, it helps me to think clearly, and sometimes it produces an effect for me that makes me feel closer to the divine.
But what made my encounters with “the Goddess” and other beings different? In my younger years I used to frequently experience very vivid, lucid dreams. I haven’t had dreams of this type very often as I’ve gotten older but I remember how they felt and what it was like. As realistic as they seemed, I always knew that what I was experiencing was in fact a dream. But in my encounters with “the Goddess”, Blue the dragon, the native spirits in the woods, etc. I felt the presence of an intelligence that was outside myself. That’s the only way I can think of to explain or describe it. It’s one of those feelings that I believe we all probably feel on a daily basis. I think we experience it so much that we’re mostly oblivious to it but I have it whenever I am around other people, my pets or other animals, or sometimes when I get that feeling that someone else is near by when I think I’m alone and I turn around to look and find that there is in fact someone there. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe a spirit? But in any event, it’s that feeling. Some of you will know the one I mean. In all of these experiences I have had that feeling. But I don’t know how to tell you or anyone else how to reproduce it with 100% certainty. I just know that certain activities like prayer and meditation help me to get closer to it. Maybe it will work for you, maybe it won’t. Maybe there are other factors involved. Maybe those on the other side have to want to make contact with you or maybe they too have to be in a certain state for it to happen. I honesty have no idea what in particular makes a divine being look around and say “That little monkey creature right there! I want to talk to that one!”
It’s still a mystery to me and maybe I am not intended to understand why it is. But I do believe I have had these experiences and I believe others who have told me that they too have had interesting brushes with the other side. Personal Gnosis is a thing for some. At the same time, I know that some are just charlatans looking to get money, attention or something else from telling their stories. Some might actually be delusional or their mind may have played a trick on them. Hel! For that matter, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I didn’t experience a hallucination or other mind trick. But I don’t believe so. I know what I have felt and it felt very real to me. So there it is. It’s up to each and every individual to choose what to believe or disbelieve. I believe that we are, in many ways, creators of our own realities. Our world is what we perceive it to be and we change it simply by observing. Now, THAT is something which has been reproduced in a lab.
Very often I will share quotes or other things I find which have an air of truth and wisdom or give us something to think about. Sometimes people will respond with something like “Well that person who said that also said this other thing which I don’t agree with or subscribes to that ideology I don’t like.”
That all might be true but does it negate the truth and wisdom in that one particular quote? I agree that it is always wise to consider one’s sources in everything but I don’t know that it’s wise to throw the baby out with the bath water. True words are still true words no matter whose lips they pass through. If Adolph Hitler proclaimed that the sky was blue then does the sky suddenly become orange just because he said that it was blue? Just saying.
I subscribe to the “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” theory of quotes. Again, to paraphrase myself, wise words are still wise words even if they pass through the lips of an idiot. Even I must have uttered a word or two of wisdom here and there I’ll bet ya. 🙂
Long before I discovered that I was Pagan I had a love of freedom and a disdain for those who would force their will on others. I have never cared for laws which criminalize things or behaviors for which no discernible victim can be identified or which forces people to live according to a religious moral code which might not even apply to the religion which they practice. (Like say for example, who can marry who and how many spouses you may have? Or your child will recite a prayer to a single deity each day in school even if your family believes in 20 gods or no god?)
Case in point, I very, very rarely myself partake in the recreational use of marijuana. Not because it is still illegal in the state in which I live (for now) but predominantly because its most popular method of use is through the inhaling of smoke and as someone who used to have frequent asthma attacks, I am not a fan of anything that makes me cough. But I know many people who do use it and I have no issue with that. I have long felt that the laws forbidding it were ludicrous and unfounded. Especially considering that prohibition of alcohol was repealed many years ago and I see the double standard between alcohol and marijuana. Now when it comes to man made, synthesized drugs, those I have opinions on depending on their usefulness, side effects, addictiveness, etc. But when it comes to a plant that has been provided by the gods, that grows naturally by throwing a few seeds on the ground, I have long suspected that the government’s real reason for fighting so heavily against it was similar to the opposition to Tesla’s ideas for electricity distribution. There’s no way to regulate it and charge people for it. They can’t control it. They don’t like things that they can’t control.
So no, I will generally not be anyone’s ally in their war against that particularl plant. Now poison ivy, that’s a different matter. I’m all for eradicating that plant. It hasn’t done anything good for anybody as near as I can tell. But over all, in most matters, if it is an issue of personal liberty and rights, I am always choosing the side of more liberty and rights unless someone can convincingly prove to me there is a victim other than those who are made victims because of the very fact that such a thing is criminalized in the first place.
Working with a group, any group really, whether we’re talking spiritual or otherwise, requires some degree of compromise. You have to be willing to be flexible in certain things and to have mutual respect between yourself and those with whom you wish to work. No two people are ever going to agree with one another 100% of the time on all issues and all ways of doing things. That’s just impossible if you’re working with human beings rather than machines.
Some people are going to prefer snuffing candles and will consider it an affront to blow them out. Some people will like to call quarters one way, others might prefer a different way and some might not call quarters at all but instead do something completely different. I think, part of the reason that some (not all, just some I said) choose to remain solitary in their practice might be because they have become too rigid in their ways and are unwilling to be flexible in certain areas. Now I’m not saying that people necessarily need to go all the way to the other end and just accept any and everything. Part of what defines us as a people are those customs and practices we adhere to. But if you’re finding that you are seemingly, constantly at odds with those with whom you are working over relatively minor details (or even big ones) then perhaps it’s time to evaluate some things. Ask yourself, am I truly in the right place? Could I phrase my ideas and suggestions in a more respectful way toward others? Is group working truly for me or am I happier doing my own thing? These might be hard questions to ask yourself and harder still to answer but ultimately, if you’re going to find happiness, it either needs to be with a group you can work cohesively with or, if need be, alone.
I was recently added to a group on Facebook by a friend who is helping to put together a collection of Pagan songs for a great man who has been a wonderful force of good in our community. For those who have not heard the news this is what Cheryl Wykyd posted:
For those who do not know, Tiny is in the hospital and will likely be passing the veil in the coming days/weeks. I hope you aren’t finding out from this note but if you didn’t already know, at least this group will make more sense.
Tiny asked me to help coordinate this. I don’t want to step on any toes so if anyone else already has this started, please let me know. Add anyone you think would like to be a part of it. And as far as I’m concerned, all of our issues with one another must be put aside for this project.
Cheryl has also said:
Tiny has asked me to help coordinate a sing-fest. As you know, he wants all the songs put into a book and to sit in a chair and hear many voices sing. He told me he’s spoken with *names edited out for privacy*, and has asked that I get together with all of you and “others I can’t think quick enough to name” to pull this all together and make this happen. I have all the notes from my conversation with him. I’m just putting this group here so we can talk about it. I’m not trying to take over anything that has already been done… Just doing as I’ve promised… So if the ball is already rolling, I’ll close this group. If not, can we start making plans and coordinating here? (I can’t add *name edited out for privacy* so feel free to do so if you can)
I first met Tiny shortly after the last time Council of the Magickal Arts held it’s final event at Recreation Plantation (the first C.M.A. event I had ever attended) and work was just beginning on the land which would eventually become known as Spirit Haven. My wife at the time and I went to some of the first work weekends there and, although we didn’t know many folks, we were very warmly welcomed by Tiny and all of the people at Land Crew camp where we were invited to come camp with them at the first festival held on the new land. I remember his good natured humor and infectious laughter most of all. He loved to sit around the fire and tell stories, sing songs and share in the connectedness of the tribe.
I haven’t seen him in many years. I stopped making the long journey down to that part of Texas shortly after my youngest was born because gas became too expensive, (around 2008 when it first crossed the $4 per gallon mark), the cost of the festivals also became rather pricey for me and I had my doubts about the dependability of the vehicles I had at the time. Add to those things, the rigors of supporting a family and the rather ugly politics that were also taking place during that time period within the community and it just didn’t seem very feasible to continue as I had been. Maybe, soon, that will change though. We’ll see. Still, I fondly remember this great man, Tiny and how he welcomed and treated everyone like family. If you are able to help by contributing songs, stories, or funds, please feel free to do so. Let me know that you would like to be added to the Closed Facebook Group Tiny’s Pagan Song Legacy where there are links to do so and I will add you. Sorry, but if I post the links here I’m afraid the spam bots will show up and clutter the documents, etc.
Last Sunday I had the extreme pleasure of getting to do something I don’t get called upon often enough to do. Officiate a wedding for a happy young couple starting a new life together. They opted for a handfasting styled ceremony which I was more than happy to do. My wife Em’ and I too were handfasted twice and we jumped the broom as part of our own nuptials.
As part of the ceremony I performed for them states:
This is a symbolic binding of the hands that inspired the terms “Bonds of Holy Matrimony” and to “Tie the knot” Throughout history in many different ways and in many different parts of the world, the hands of the bride and groom were bound as a sign of their commitment to one another. In many times rings were only for the very rich, while love knows no such bound. The cords are not permanent but perishable as a reminder that all things of the material eventually return to the earth, unlike the bond and the connection that is love which is eternal.
I keep a small journal in which I ask couples to sign when I have officiated a wedding for them and I record the date and place where it happened for my own mementos. This is one part of my service as clergy that I am always pleased to be a part of. Many years of love, joy and blessings to the family! 🙂