Thursday, May 11, 2017

ADF Druidry: Coming Full Circle

As part of Project Get My Shit Together, the gods, Manannan in particular, had advised me to complete Ár nDraíocht Féin's Dedicant Program. As a way to revisit the basics, re-examine my foundation, in more ways than one.

The Dedicant Program was something that had been on my to do list, a long time ago, back when I first joined the organization, more than ten years ago as a newly minted Pagan (it was in fact the first stop on the line). It never did get done, eventually I came to the conclusion that it wasn't for me and left the goal entirely in the dust when I quit ADF for greener pastures.

I am back in it now, officially and unofficially for a while longer. In truth, I never even got all that far away, though not for lack of trying. ADF is the group I keep tripping over wherever I try to go, keep wandering back in even when I don't mean to. After a certain point, all you can really do is surrender.

I'd left the organization about six or seven years ago, when I was trying to be more of a reconstructionist and the two were clashing. Now ADF has always valued scholarship, that had always been one of its selling points, one of the reasons I joined up to begin with, it was the first refuge of reason found in a sea of revisionist history garbage (that may no longer be the case in broader Pagan circles, I haven't really looked in some time, but it certainly was when I was starting out). ADF also has its own traditions, of course it does it would have nothing to distinguish it otherwise, and while they are officially pan Indo European, their particular traditions always seemed more influenced by northern Europe, and would work better with a Celtic, or at least Norse framework, rather than the strict Greek I was at the time (trying to be at the time). Some people can and do make it work, but I was finding it hard and began drifting away.

And of course I also, shortly after, left strict reconstructionism behind, too, for a number of reasons, some of which was community weariness, but not all. I learned a lot in my time on those lists and I remain grateful for it, at a certain point something else was needed. This departure was to be permanent, never looked back never missed it much; ADF I returned to, if not on purpose.

I did keep running into groups and individuals, and it was easy to fall back into place. It is familiar, yes, but comforting and meaningful as well. At some point, without my knowledge and perhaps against my will, ADF's cosmology and traditions imprinted themselves in my mind.

In those early years, I was involved, in person, with one of the larger and better established groves - one that owns property, made its own temple and had weekly meetings. It was more or less run then by a very talented priest, capable of weaving a dose of mysticism into a large group ritual. That, combined with the sacred space set up for them, created some powerful experiences. Not every ritual, mind you, but many of them were very good and I got something out of them - even if it was often my own, private thing, wholly separate from the larger group purpose.

Though a talented priest could work on almost anyone. The real test is experiencing the ritual with a less talented priest, someone incapable of any even small mystical elements, whose rituals are recitation of hymns and statements of intent with little more going on. When you can be a part of a ritual that dry, but the picture the tradition paints still manages to tweak something in your mind, that's when you know those symbols have made a home in your head.

Yes, I don't have the greatest things to say about my experiences since wandering back. The first initial group I liked, I didn't fit in with them very well and that eventually caught up with me (as it always does), but I liked it when I was there. Later, in a different city, I visited another grove a few times that I did not like, enough so that I stopped going in short order; later still, I was tangentially involved in the formation of a proto-grove that failed very quickly as it seemed to come at just the wrong time for everyone involved, sudden relocation and unemployment pulling people away one by one until there was no one left (including me and my room mate, who moved away as well).

Not exactly high points in my religious career. But it helped kick start something and, after some thought, I renewed my membership and started looking at their training. For whatever reason, their specific cosmology and ritual structure works for me. What works counts for something, it counts for a lot; made more sense to embrace that than to push it off and try for something else.

I do break away from ADF on several points, some small, some that seem bigger; those breaks were one of the initial reasons I ceased work on the Dedicant Program, though conversations I've had since with several people have assured me none of it should be a problem. That I don't have a broad, shall we say more generalized, religious practice, but instead tend to focus (we could say specialize) in one area, deal only with particular deities (often only one or two) and neither see nor care for anything outside it. There's the deep apathy I feel toward ancestor worship, being dead blind and disconnected and distant with relatives, with people in general; I tried once, I've had conversation with people for whom it is important (and often such people feel very strongly about it, at best they're passionate, at worst they can be pushy), but there is just nothing there, for me, nothing at all, and I've long since moved past trying to force things, leave it to those for whom its meaningful while I do otherwise. Those are minor breaks.

The bigger one is nature worship. On this ADF might be on the lesser end of the scale from other druid organizations, it is explicitly a polytheist group that puts the gods center, as opposed to others that come off more as nature philosophy with explicitly optional gods; those groups treat nature the way a theist would a deity, with that special reverence. I do not. Nor would you mistake my spirituality for environmentalism. This has always been a gap between me and your average Pagan (except in the reconstructionist circles, where its not present or at least not prominent).

This does not mean, I should say, that I see nature as devoid of meaning, or that I must therefore be okay with burning the earth. I've run into this bizarre form of dualistic thinking in arguments with nature centric Pagans before, this mistake of theirs that it must be all or nothing, divine levels of value or no value whatsoever. Not so, there is a continent worth of middle ground between.

My actual views of nature are more complicated, and have changed over time. When I first departed ADF I didn't understand the desire at all; now I do, and I credit the city I recently left with that, with showing me natural places that felt powerful. I could feel what draws people to worship, I could sense something there, if I did not feel drawn to join in. When I sit by the ocean and watch the waves coming in, I get it, though there I connect it with a god I do feel drawn to, rather than a thing onto itself.

ADF is also explicitly nature centric, it is right there in their training. And yet I have been assured, more than once, by people who would know, that my differing on this point should not prevent me from advancing through their education, that I can explain myself and it should be fine. Hopefully, that will be the case.

I have been in touch with some local people here, spoken to them online but haven't met in person yet (soon though). Both of them are trying to do the Dedicant Program as well, so perhaps a study group could be formed. There is an active grove, not very near by, but invitations were extended to my room mate and I and we should be able to get ourselves there at least sometimes.

Hopefully that will all go well, or at least better than before. And maybe by the time I'm done with this, I'll have a better idea where I stand. There must be some reason I was pushed in this direction, and this seems the best way to find out.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Tangled, Confusing Mess

Over the last two years, I've fallen in love with the ocean.

Perhaps not a new love, but one rediscovered when seen through a new light. In childhood the ocean was a thing for summer vacations, crowded popular beaches at the height of tourist season under the baking sun - a good way to suck the fun out of it, at least for me. Nowadays I don't need to wait for when my family likes doing things to get dragged helplessly along, I can pick my own vacation dates; I visited the coast in early spring and fall, the two seasons I actually like, where it was just warm enough I could walk every day along a mostly empty and quiet beach with my shoes off and the waves lapping at my feet.

I haven't yet gotten to visit the coast here, in my new home, but it looks like it might be a short public transit bus ride away - a day trip, that I can make as often as I feel like. Not so in the old home, far enough off that you had to spend several days to make it worth it. I'm grateful we were doing well enough, financially anyway, that we managed it a few times.

Those trips might've been the only thing keeping me sane at the time. Or brought me back to sanity. I almost feel like I was reborn there. Several important things happened on those trips: eye opening revelations, vital decisions reached, epic quests begun, thoughts and habits reshaped, life changing things, this is not insignificant.

I wish I could remember this exactly, but me and private journaling have never gotten along. I swear this is the case, and my room mate thinks so as well, though we could be off a bit. But I think it was sometime shortly after that first trip to the coast that it first came into my head that my patronage (to use a term) would be passed to Manannan mac Lir.

I referenced this in my first entry here, as a temporary thing, or a threat never intended to be followed through on, either way a settled issue left by the side of the road while Hermes and I drove off into the sunset. So, why do I bring it up again? Because things happened, and I realized I may have been a bit too hasty in declaring this null and void.

Which is not to say that I have been passed over. Its to say that, right now, I don't know.

And not knowing, is driving me crazy.

For a long time, before and after this idea first blossomed, in every tarot reading I ever did for myself, there was a clear and obvious theme that kept coming up, particular cards that kept repeating, even where me and personal journaling do not get along I didn't need the exact record, it was impossible to ignore or forget. Loss, endings, change, letting go, moving on. And no shit, my life at the time wasn't good, there were any number of things that needed to be rolled up in a carpet and dumped in a ditch (many of which have since been so). It hadn't occurred to me, before that idea, that my patron relationship might've been one of them. It had always seemed so solid, eternal; though in retrospect, there was no reason to think so.

My relationship to Hermes, at that point, was dysfunctional, and had been for a long time. Some of it was external, a lot of it was internal, most of it was me. I don't think I was ready, those vows I took, the initial steps on a more mystical, devotional path, what it would unleash, what it would stir up. I was ill prepared for the psychological shit show, I thought I had a lot more of that damage under control than I in fact actually did, that that "control" was more a very precarious balancing act that would not have taken much to blow over, and I invited a god in, even made him his own keys. I also, after the initial meltdown, got some very bad advice, very terrible advice, that I listened to at the time because it sounded good: advice that placed the entirety of the blame on other people and none of it on myself. Bullshit tailor made for someone in a vulnerable state, but bullshit nonetheless; all it did in the end was insure that I was angry a lot longer than I should have been, and guaranteed the real problem was not dealt with because I wasn't looking in the right direction, a mirror.

There is blame to be had for my mental state, but the jackasses that made my childhood a living hell are long gone; standing on the road side shaking my fist at them, when I know they can't even see it, doesn't seem productive. My association with a small group of people, my interactions with them especially after said vows was the start of it, they got the ball rolling that lead to the collapse, that's true, but they're not to blame for it; they didn't create the mess, they just tripped and knocked it over. If it hadn't been them, it would've been something else; that was bomb was going off, it was inevitable. Instead, I got focused on that association as the root of all the problems, spent too much time trying to purge old ideas out of my mind, rather than asking the far more important why did I react to those ideas the way I did.

Its embarrassing even writing that, and I wish I could go back in time and punch myself in the face, repeatedly, for falling for that, for wasting so much time. It did take a while, before I could see things in the right light, and realization did not make healing instantaneous. Wouldn't even say I'm all the way there yet, but on the way, I'm more aware of things and that makes a difference. And if, in the middle of all of that, red hot frustration and black depression, Hermes got sick of it and walked away, well...its not inconceivable, if I want to be very brutally honest. If, to be more charitable, he thought our connection was bringing me too much pain, or just couldn't be productive, and that I'd be better off with someone new, that I had no history with...well, that's happened before. If something changed, in him or me, in those long years of constant failure and misery, something that made our connection no longer make sense...well, time and dramatic, stressful circumstances can do that.

That I pulled the name Manannan mac Lir out of the air, was odd, by itself almost enough to be convincing. I've never had much contact with Celtic polytheists, despite my on and off and on again ties to a Druid organization. The only thing I learned during my long, long ago dabbling into Celtic polytheism is that Celtic myths hold zero appeal for me. That's still true today. I didn't stay in the Greek pantheon (then again, ties to the rest of the pantheon never actually developed, not matter how I tried), or to the Norse that I'm much more familiar with.

For all those reasons, as much as I don't like thinking it (and I don't, intensely so), it could be possible.

And it could be temporary. It could be a fresh new face, someone I have no history with, to ease my way back into the swing of things. It could be a third party needed to help heal that rift. Hell, it could still be Hermes hiding behind a very slightly different mask - and they do overlap, quite a bit, to a ridiculous degree. All of that, is also very possible.

When this first came up, I mulled over it for a long time, depressed at even the thought of this old relationship coming to an end. After a while I figured I should do something about it, so I started trying to get to know Manannan, though it was a bit distant, muted. And I kept thinking, and the second possibility started to win out, that it was temporary, it had to be. Then Hermes was back, and it seemed settled. And then he changed - within my sight, changed, into the other face. And the tarot messages started up again, just more intense. And I'm back to just don't know.

Some Pagans believe in a very limited number of gods, or take a more syncretic, "squishy" view of things - I've never been one of them, hard polytheism makes the most sense to me and fits my experience up to this point. That there may be a degree of syncretism going on is a possibility I've considered, but it also feels too soon to be making that judgement call (which also feels, if I'm being honest, like a too easy cop out, at least at this point barring any further signs indicating such). Based on the constant message theme, I'd guess this puzzle does have a right answer - and possibly also a wrong one, in the sense of mistakes that could be made.

Am I being held back by the same old fears and insecurities, or am I avoiding a new opportunity by clinging to a past that has left me behind? When I think it over, both of those scenarios make sense, both of them work with the evidence, both of them fit the persistent message theme. There's nothing that tips the scales, one way or the other. Which one I believe at any given time seems to depend on my mood: optimism or pessimism, though I can look on either outcome with hope or despair. I know which I would prefer, in the grand scheme of things, but what I want has rarely ever mattered and I don't expect that to be factored into the decision. There is a danger in that, focusing too much on what I want, a blindness, seeing what I want to see and not what is; as the latest message pulled out of the aether and into my brain reminded me: if my initial suspicion is the correct one, the change of hands has already happened, some time ago, and there's nothing to do about it, refusing to address it won't help and might just ruin this new offer before it can get off the ground.

That is, of course, if that is what happened, and not something else.

Paralyzed by old fear, or blinded to a new, unwelcome reality?

Hermes wearing a slightly new face, or a new face wearing his as a temporary measure to ease the transition and help me relax those mental walls? Both of them? Or something else?

Some might suggest here seeking an outside oracle for the answer, but even if I knew such a person any longer (and I do not) I don't think it would help. I have a feeling, a strong feeling, that the only response such an oracle will get is something along the lines of piss off, mind your business. That's happened, before, in language ranging from polite dismissal to outright testy. It is one of those problems that developed during those dark years, I stopped trusting my own god phone and looked to others too much.

I trusted it at one point, earlier, falling into a natural rhythm; I received messages, I followed them, taking big risks a few times, and it all worked out as promised. After a certain point, when the stress began building, I became convinced the process should work differently, needed to work otherwise to be right; doubt can become so powerful, it interferes even with the channels that once worked fine, I made mistakes I did not used to make, and it caused the doubt to cement further. I began over attributing in a way I never before had, due to external circumstances but, again, the way I responded to it is its own issue; again, the clash between the expectations that formed in my mind and the reality that I did, was and always had experienced, made the doubt worse.

This is my mess, and one I need to set to rights again, which is why going to outside oracles is not going to help and will likely not even be allowed.

I wonder if its not a test, somehow. Oh, so you need to get your god phone functioning again, with proper connectivity, proper discernment? Well then, here's a tangled, confusing mess with your name on it! Have fun! If I can't logic it out, because both scenarios make sense, what else do I have to fall back on? It would not surprise me, much. What better way to escape a pit than to have to claw your way out, tooth and nail? What better way to make certain you don't fall in again?

What makes this hard, as I said, there is a particular potential outcome I do not want; the task ahead, daunting as it may be, I could deal with it, its that potential and implications of it that is so painful a pill to swallow. Its that potential I shy away from, perhaps even constructing alternate scenarios to keep it back, maybe. I can't go on indefinitely with the question hanging over everything; if nothing has changed then I have to know, and if it has I have to deal with that eventually.

That fact is slowly hammering itself home. In the meantime, I should come up with a game plan

Friday, March 31, 2017

Living Apart, With The Greenest Lawn Around

Classic conversation, at least from when I used to be around more, centered on warnings that choosing a life devoted to the gods, to building and maintaining a close relationship with Them, mysticism, magic, oracles, doing Their work with whatever word you want to use, that such a life will set you apart. There is historical precedence of course, such people were very often on the fringes of society, and it seemed in every way to be carrying into the present day - if not in a more pronounced way, in a modern society that is largely secular with a rather limited list of religious callings it is willing to recognize and even halfway support.

But this isn't about a general reality; its about me, and coming around to accept this, again.

Being apart is not a new thing for me, not something I had to choose and get used to after making a number of sacrifices to get my life to a place where all distractions were removed and the work can begin. I've always been on the fringe, if not born then delivered shortly thereafter, it is the only life I have ever known. I was an odd kid, always; I grew up in a town that didn't know how to deal with odd except to overreact. My life went off the track, flying, landing somewhere in the deep woods miles away; I have had a lot of life experiences that many (or most) will never have, I missed out on many more than are considered to be common, or universal. There is a gap there, and every passing year it grows a little wider, and wider, into a gulf, a chasm, and eventually there comes a point where it is so great you can no longer converse with the other side.

I never knew any different, and people adjust to their reality. But something odd happened during the years of depression, as depression can stir up odd ideas. At a certain point I came to resent, not where I was in life, but my lack of choice in ending up there. Many that I met then, online, they'd moved to the fringe to be closer to their gods; many, before that, had fairly average lives, or the promise thereof, with the standard accessories - career, marriage, family, etc. Many others never claimed any choice, but circumstances set into motion by accepting the invitation (or not) caused those things that were in the way to dissolve (much like as in my recent history where a job stood in the way of my ability to leave for greener pastures, and it was then made to disappear).

I do not know if I can explain this rationally, or if rationality can even be applied (with depression it often is not). I never denied that, given the option for escape, for normality, I wouldn't choose, knowingly and willingly, to stay. I resented not being given the choice, resented having never known anything else, having never been presented even the ghost of a possibility of an average life with all the standard accessories - career, marriage, family, etc. (okay, maybe not all of them, not family, never wanted kids, no parental instinct to speak of). I resented that my path through life to the present seemed to be a linear corridor with every door barred shut. Even if I liked where I was, even if I wanted my calling, I wanted to have been able to make a choice - a meaningful choice, not one between following Hermes and nothing at all.

I'd fallen out of former circles, distanced myself from the community that had once been my sole source of socialization, and had hit that point where, even as a severe introvert used to a minimum of interaction, was starting to feel the pressure of isolation. I had no better ideas, and so attempted to reach out and meet those right around me - not a special interest group, not people united by experience, but just those who happened to be near by - average people living average lives with all, or most, of the accessories thereof.

It did not go well. And the experience, unpleasant as it was at times, was also informative.

Very often, it just didn't get off the ground. I was an odd kid, I am an even odder adult who has lived an odd life. I am obviously odd, it has never taken long for me to say or do something to give it away, to make the person I'm speaking to say okay, now what happened to you? I can't even say what it is, as its occurred in otherwise innocuous conversations where nothing of the worst parts of my personal history would have cause to shine through. It may be that I come across as badly socialized, as one who has spent more time in isolation (or in active conflict) than in peer groups, and that never happens by accident, or without consequence. It is a clue, a clear and obvious mark that I'm carrying around more baggage than most, and that is a thing that can scare people off, especially if they see it very early on, when its nothing at all to walk away.

There is boundless optimism you find thrown your way, if you're having problems, if you have always had problems - you can always start, any time, any age, it makes no difference. Maybe you can, maybe some have, I am not saying its impossible; I am saying, in my observation, it becomes more difficult the older you get. I have reached an age where people's tolerance for odd is low; it does seem, to me, to shrink, as time goes on, until one only wishes to converse with those in a very similar position in life as they themselves are in. One learns and masters social skills through practice, if you do not learn at the same time everyone else is bungling through, if, like me, circumstances denied you the opportunity, you still do need to learn and practice whatever your age; you need people with patience for it. I suppose I simply do not meet those people, or perhaps I do but do not inspire feelings of patience, that is also very possible.

This is not a condemnation, not at all. I understand. It might suck for me but that doesn't mean I don't get it, it doesn't mean that I blame anyone. I'm not sure I'd feel any different, had my life gone another way.

Not to say that is always how it went, not to say there was no one who stuck around longer than a conversation or two and vanished like a puff of smoke. There were always a few, and I never wanted more than a few. Were that all, I would only have a lot of wasted effort to complain about, annoying but not enough so to warrant this post. There was another issue, one I could start to see even in those brief exchanges with the soon to be departed. One I did not already know (as I had long known this first point), but needed to learn.

Years back, there was a certain attitude (or the perception thereof) in the community of a seeming disdain for mundane things, things not related to spiritual life. It was not a thing I cared for, said as much after a certain point. I don't know if this is me eating my words now, but after all this I do feel I've come a lot closer to understanding those who wished to keep such discussions to a severe minimum, if not bar them from the agenda altogether. Not an overall disdain, no, but a strong personal disinterest, certainly yes.

It had dawned on me, after a very short time in this experiment, one of those things I maybe should've realized earlier but never had cause before to make comparison - I have always kept some unusual company. Fitting, I suppose, for an odd person. Prior to this, for a good solid six, seven years, my sole social group consisted entirely of Pagans, religious reconstructionists, mystics and magicians, shamans and spirit workers. Religion was what we discussed, ninety to ninety-five percent of the time, and as my spiritual life evolved my social circle changed until it was less laity, less of the even strongly devout and mostly those for whom the gods were everything. That's not a statement most can make. That was a long time to live neck deep in that world, to get used to social expectations, conversational patterns, common topics. And even before that, years before, the people I knew were those, like myself, who lived rough lives, been through things no one should; that was our unifying point, what our conversations tended to revolve around, who else could we discuss this with, who else was going to get it? Weighty topics, no matter how you look at it, the minutia of life (such as it was) was always far in the background if not absent altogether.

This is not the usual, so I found during these exercises, as conversations always went very far off from the rules and patterns I was familiar with. And the end result, for me, well...

It was dull.

Work, office politics, household chores and other home related plans, shopping trips and polite dinners with family and, sometimes, tales of road trips and youthful misadventures with old friends now a decade or more past, like an assurance that you were once more fun.

So very, very dull.

I tried, I really did; in retrospect, the problems were clear. My room mate would ask me, so what did you think of whoever; my response, inevitably, they were all right. An unconsciously diplomatic answer, and indeed, they were not bad people, they didn't piss me off, they were all right. But that's not really much, is it? Most things do fall under the category of all right, sitting alone with nothing but the sound of the wind blowing past my ears to keep me company can be all right. Once upon a time there were people I knew that I followed their every word, tracked down their writings, went out of my way to talk to them; here, weeks might go by without a word and I'd hardly notice, or care. They were indeed all right people, but they did not interest me.

I never felt I got to know them very well, despite that they may talk for hours on end I couldn't have told you what kind of person they were, aside from all right. I know they work (a job they, most often, don't really love, or hate either - its something they do, if its relatively stress free and pays well then its decent enough, could always be worse, there is rarely any strong feeling involved), I know they have a home and that they know other people, and while all of these are facts to know none of it conveys meaningful information to me. This, I believe, may be a communication gap created by my odd life and the unusual company I have always kept; I developed different expectations, different standards, I interacted from a different place and learned different meanings. A person's occupation must convey a good deal of meaning, it is so often the first question asked (what do you do?), it was so often the center piece of hours upon hours of conversation; I can see that it must have meaning for many people, but I do not understand it.

It may well have been mutual, I will readily admit. I have little to contribute to these sorts of conversations: I have been on disability my whole life and never held a job, no stories of wild youth (not fun ones anyway), with nothing meaningful to contribute I tend toward silence (at least when I do not know someone very well). I would not discuss religion with them in any great detail beyond acknowledging that I was, not unless they wished to know more and they rarely did. Beyond that there are subjects I'm interested enough in to go off at length about, but they are few; it seemed to come as a surprise, when one of those subjects would come up and I'd go from quiet and reserved to passionate, taking over the conversation and not being able to shut up, like a different person. I may have come across as dull otherwise, where the every day minutia of life is concerned. Fair enough.

I also do not want to give the impression that I never discuss such things. When I know a person well, when I consider them a friend, they can speak of just about anything, doesn't matter if I'm personally interested in it on a normal day, we're friends and if it makes you happy then I'm happy for you. With friends the rules change, of course, and we always have other things to discuss, common interests, things that are closer to the base the friendship formed on, I know there is more to them than that. And the thing is, for those all right people, I'm not sure there was more to them, there may have been but they did not let on.

Passion, I believe that is the key factor, what was missing. There was one successful friendship I found, lasted a good two years before circumstances changed. He was very into Magic: The Gathering. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, but he came alive when that was the subject. Passion, he loved the game, loved playing it, talking about it, loved introducing people to it; he seemed to have so many of the cards memorized (if you've ever seen a card database you know, that's no mean feat), he could spend hours building hypothetical decks (that sometimes became actual decks), coming up with all sorts of different and creative combinations that could prove a win. I believe, in retrospect, that may be what I liked about him, why I actively sought out his company as I so rarely did otherwise: it was the first time I'd seen that degree of passion since the devotional polytheist community. I think I missed that so much I was drawn to it, even if the subject itself was quite different, not something that I shared in (I had never played before, naturally that is no longer true and while I definitely found it fun, always enjoyed competitive card games, I'll never be quite that into it - and my wallet thanks me).

It is similar with the new crowd I have spent silent anti-social time with. A different subject (health and fitness) but the same passion. Even more similar to the polytheist community I once knew, in that there are people there who feel so strongly that they took risks to make their passion their life, so this is what they can focus on and not a different job they found unfulfilling. I find I admire that, as I admired those religious types that did the same, rearranging their lives to have the time to do what they want. That takes guts, will, a strong all consuming drive to pull you out of an established niche and send you searching for a different place that will mean something to you rather than just being good enough could be worse - to feel so strongly for something that you want your life to revolve around it, because nothing is more important.

That is what draws me, I've learned, that is what I understand, what I can relate to. Because that is what He brought to my life when He showed up. I could've laid down and waited for it to be over, crawled back in a cave where I'd never be hurt again, after everything that choice may have been understandable, but Hermes filled my life with meaning and gave me something worth striving for. And that may be a very rare gift, even without the divine involvement; that sort of passionate devotion is rare, as is the willingness to take big risks, to be happy, fulfilled, not just all right. This is what I wish to surround myself with, people who live this, who encourage it in others - people who know what it is to feel strongly, to be devoted, to live for something, whatever it is. Such people are never (entirely) dull.

This may be the closest I can ever come to choosing a spiritual path over a mundane life. I got just close enough to see, to feel, how incompatible it would be. And believe me, I'm not knocking it, not in a general way; it obviously works for a great many people, if they say they are happy I am not in the habit of telling anyone they're wrong, all the more power to them. But its not for me, its not what I want: career, marriage, family, etc. It may be I never did, never could, wasn't built that way from the start; I especially never could after having had that purpose, that passion, that drive. That changed everything for me, I always knew that but now I know another dimension to it, and I could never go back - I'd never want to go back, even if it could all somehow work out.

Coming off this experience, ending that experiment, realizing this truth, all played a huge part in propelling me forward, back on the path to reconciliation, for hopefully the final time. In that sense, I'm glad it all happened, as frustrating as it often was. Even if it makes life harder, even if it means my potential social circles are much smaller, I'd much rather live with this fire than live without it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

New Home, New Shrine

My belongings finally arrived this week, having taken the much longer, scenic route from one coast to the other. That means one very important thing: I can sleep in a real bed again. Also, I can set my shrine up again.

Shrine keeping was one of the first forms of devotional work I was drawn to, that resonated strongly, and having a physical space that can serve as an ongoing dedication, visual reminder, repository of images, offerings, gifts and energy from repeated use is an important foundational aspect for me. Its also one that has suffered a bit these last few years, through unfortunate necessity.

Space; the last apartment had none of it. It was small with a poor lay out. The selling point of that place was location, convenient walking distance to most everything you would need, and when one does not drive it is an attractive prospect. We hardly seemed to have the room for what we needed to live with some moving space between; going through everything we owned, throwing out a ton of accumulated junk, giving away what we no longer needed, and downgrading furniture size (trading in an old couch for a slightly oversized chair) made things a little better, but not quite enough.

Not to say I had nothing, I had a very small box size shelf all my own. It fit one statue, a framed collage I made, candle and offering dish, a couple small objects, and very little else. I have a huge collection of shrine items at this point, things I bought or made or found or were given to me. Some date back to the very early days of my conversion and commitment, that bear very little relevance to the way things stand now but that I keep for the history; much of the rest of it does still have meaning beyond being museum pieces. When I only have room for a couple things, it leads to a lot of deliberating, no matter what I feel like something important is being left out; as a physical representation, it was cramped and limited.

I might have actually liked it, as a small intimate space, perfect for certain sorts of work, were it not the only shrine I had.

In my new apartment, I have something I haven't had in years: room. More room than I know what to do with. More room than I or my room mate would ever fill up on our own. And that means opportunity for expansion.

My favorite shrine I had sat on an old entertainment center that was given to me by a couple I lived with years back. It was big enough and had an interesting shape to it, allowing for some creative design. It did include a small space big enough for a statue, a candle and some personal items that reminds me of the shrine I have now, perfect for some sorts of work, but it also had the bigger area up top. I got compliments on it from the people who chanced to see it (more people than have been in any home of mine since), they really liked what I did with it. I really liked what I did with it. That entertainment center is no more, it was half a decade old when given to me, several more years and relocations later and it could barely stand; I've not found anything since that I liked quite as much.

I would like to find something like it again, or just get something bigger. We have the space, but not the resources. We've not been here a month and a job has yet to be found, and until it is all non essential (neither rent, bill nor food related) expenses are tightly controlled, just in case. There is a list of things to get, now that we have the space, just waiting until its safe to do so.

So until then, I have the same small box like shelf again. But its at least good to know it won't stay that way for long.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rebirth, Once More

"I offer a glimpse from beyond the veil."

Words I heard spoken to me from the shadows just off the sidewalk on Christmas night. My room mate and I were out for a walk, looking to get some exercise, in a direction we would not normally have gone in but, figuring the holiday would reduce the usual crowds we decided to shake things up a bit - and there in my path, a random man in a long dark coat and top hat, offering tarot readings for whatever you think they are worth.

This did not feel like a coincidence, but like a meaningful encounter, something I was supposed to stumble upon on this night, on a route I don't often walk. Something that, as a long time devotee of Hermes, Greek god of travelers and strangers in the night and omens overheard on the crowded market, I have learned to pay attention to. I'd gone by him at first but after a block I knew I had to go back, I had to hear what he would tell me.

I was third in line by the time I returned, but room was immediately made for me to sit up front, to watch this man in action before it was my turn. That moment, just off the beaten path, surrounded by odd balls that were not entirely sober, not entirely sane, it was the most fun I'd had in a long time; I felt more at home in that time and place than I had in years living in that city that I had long grown to despise. The man was good, he knew his stuff, he was a showman, both entertaining and articulate in his explanations, I was impressed. I'd never had my cards read by a stranger, I mostly read for myself, aside from only a few people who knew me well enough, who knows what they could've been unconsciously projecting when they already knew some of the answers; I was interested to see how it would turn out.

Interesting, and very accurate the parts that I could immediately judge (I had to struggle not to laugh at the card that turned up in the influence of friends and family spot, I won't share exactly just to say that it couldn't have been more apt). There were a few surprises, a couple things I'm still not sure quite what to think, but much of it was things I needed to hear.

I have built up a great deal of potential around me, he says, change and new beginnings all ready to come into being. If I can use one of my greatest gifts (specifically an ability to focus very intensely on a single goal without distraction) and avoid or manage one of my greatest weaknesses (my damaged mind, that is poison), I could have anything I wanted. And he saw lofty goals in the cards (I had one of the more interesting readings he'd seen, he says) - this might be one of those times when knowing a little more about a person could bring more clarity, because I knew what that card meant, as soon as I saw it there in the position it was in; I knew the goals, the desire, the potential it was referring to.

New beginnings, after so much time.

The year of new beginnings is off to quite the start, as I'm typing this from a new apartment I've lived in less than a month, from a whole new city thousands of miles away from the one I was still in that December. Gods, did I hate it there. Not the city itself, that was at times beautiful, but the people... However many years I live there, it continued to feel hostile and alien; I never got on there, and I felt intensely uncomfortable in it in a way that became crippling. I never was sure it was the city itself and not my damaged brain just going off on its own, not until I managed to take a vacation, rediscovering my love of the ocean and spending the week in a very different town, a very different crowd and realizing toward the end that I wasn't suffering the same problems that I had been for years now. And toward the end of that vacation, I remember turning to my room mate and saying, with all the weight of revelation, "I don't want to live here anymore."

That was almost two years ago. Room mate agreed at the time, she had never fit in there either, whatever either of us tried. We were trying to find ways to make an escape work, but hitting a roadblock with the one part of living there that was always very good - money and employment. She had a pretty good job with a good company, the kind you don't really want to walk away from if you can help it. We thought we could bring the job with us, the suggestion was put out there and we were trying to negotiate that, but those negotiations kept getting put off by one thing or another. After a year and a half, we had to start wondering what was going to happen if it kept getting put off, what was more important the good job or that every other aspect of our lives was utterly miserable, what would be the breaking point?

Then January, just after the new year, just after I formally reconnected with He Who Owns My Life, my long time patron who is far more than just a patron, He who has given me everything I have and whom I try to give everything I can, though I often fail in that, terribly.

And yes, reconnect. There was a time there where it almost looked like I might be passed over to another deity. I am not certain now (never was certain, really) how serious that was, if I was interacting with a different god in that time or if it was just Hermes with a (very slightly) different coat of paint. Was I actually in danger of losing this long time relationship, or did He make that offer knowing that I would be back quick enough, because I can't stay away, because I needed to make that choice now, again? I'm not sure, I go back and forth on it, and in the end it doesn't matter because after a few weeks of getting my feet back under me again, I did what was predictable, what came naturally to me to do, and His name was back on my lips, His image back on my shrine.

And that job, suddenly, was gone.

The beloved obstacle removed, and every sign (reading my own cards, of course; as is appropriate for the random meaningful encounter, I never saw the Tarot man again) said the same thing, as loud and clear as possible: go, go, just fucking go, and I'll be with you.

Things moved into place very quickly, amazingly so. We got an apartment, the very first one we looked at. The move went off without a hitch - though not without its bumps, some very much not fun in the moment, but all in all it went much better than the last time I did something like this. And now here I am, still early in a year foretold to be about potential and new beginnings, in a new a city where I feel like I can breathe again for the first time in years.

I've spent the last year or so online in a community of people focused on health, fitness, self improvement. I don't interact much, I'm so burned out on people right now that I can't make myself speak in the group, but I hang back, I soak up the atmosphere, and I learn things. I like them, they're a good group of people; very different from the group just previous, that seemed allergic to anything of the sort - maybe more like the group just prior to that, in some ways, similar mindset but a different approach. Or I think its different, the approach, method, attitude, the way things are taught - or maybe its me that's different, in a different place than I was years back when I was still in the Pagan community, more ready to listen, more ready to put things into action. A lot of this feels like things I was being shown then, but either I needed time or I needed a different group with a different way of teaching.

I was unhealthy, physically so, I'd been unhealthy for a lot longer than I realized. My gods had been after me to fix that, in the fits and starts where their voices shined through, nudging me in certain directions. I got a first hand lesson what can happen when you don't get a handle on yourself and it was ugly, believe me. I'd made small changes before, to my diet especially, the one I was being pushed toward was a big alteration, better to do it in stages, small steps so it will stick. Last year, around this new crowd, I got a lot more serious about it, I set definite goals, I made big changes.

I haven't quite hit my lofty weight goal yet, but I am more than halfway there (sixty-five percent of the way). The results were dramatic, look right in the mirror and there it is. I changed what I ate, even what I want to eat, reset my sensitivity to sugar, things that once tasted good are sickeningly sweet now (can not ask for better than that, with how very bad sugar is for you). I actually even started exercising - me, who never enjoyed most physical activity, saw it as a chore, whose favorite everything requires sitting and silence and that may have made me a bit lazy where my brain is not involved. Walking every day, I have that so burned into me now, here where I arrived in my new home ahead of my stuff, middle of the night and freezing out so there's no going anywhere, and I'm pacing back and forth in the apartment until my step counter reads over a mile at the least, because I can't not walk, I just can't do it. I wouldn't have believed that was possible, before, but here I am.

The obvious success has been fantastic, not just because of how much better I feel - I did the impossible (or so it feels), I fixed something, I worked hard and built a whole new foundation and look what's come of it. If I can do that once, I can do it again, I can do anything at all if I put my mind to it.

And there's something else I want, another problem area that needs fixing, something I've missed a lot.

I made certain vows, a long time ago, an initiation and change of status of a sort, and things started going wrong. I did read something, not long ago now, that has me wondering if maybe this was meant to happen, had to happen, one of those issues that arises when you play with mysticism, that needs to be addressed and worked through. But I didn't do a good job of it. Of course I didn't, I'm damaged and I have bad coping skills, I didn't have much of a support network and what I did have...well, I learned not to trust, learned early and hard; the gods maybe, but not other people, and certainly not myself.

There were fits and starts, I would try to work through, try to start again. At one point, a bit after the initial explosion when things calmed down again, I thought for certain that I had it, but then there was another big, ugly problem that needed removing, and removed it was in the messiest way possible (and that was my fault, I had the opportunity to do it the easy way, I'd started to see the problems on the horizon, I'd started walking away but I didn't quite get it, I made a wrong decision, came back again and so messy extraction it was). That set off a long depression that ate up time the way depressions can do. Fits and starts, and then I needed some quiet time, space to focus on other things, try other avenues even though we all knew them to be doomed to failure - because I can't make them work and, even if I could have... no, its not what I want. But I needed to go through the motions, earn that sense of absolute certainty that can only come from trying. Fits and starts, hard to get by that when you're dealing with so much loss in such a short time frame, when its hard to get your mind in the right place, when you're living somewhere you hate that feels like it is suffocating you every day that you're there.

I needed a win, an unequivocal win. And I got my win now, didn't I? A trophy I can watch in the mirror, getting in better shape every day. And now I can point all that good energy where I want it to go. Everything I learned, every step I took to get my victory, I can put toward this as well. Maybe all I needed was a man on the street to show me, see, this is your year, get it done.

This is my third blog, though the only on this particular site. The first is still out there, untouched for seven years (yeah, its been that long); I almost went back there, but I don't know, a fresh beginning seems better, even as I reclaim my old title. The second is gone, and was never up long to begin with - that was born more from an angry reaction to certain events, there was a lot more ranting and vague blogging about people, and I realized after not too long that was poor behavior on my part, I stopped posting there and later set it to private. And at this point a lot of time has passed, cooler heads prevailed and I feel very differently about those events and the people involved now than I did then, shortly thereafter. That one is not worth revisiting.

The landscape of the community has changed - of course, its been seven years since anyone on here knew my name, for that relatively small corner of Paganism that did. Can't say I love all the changes (not the least of which is how much is centered on Facebook, I think I'm one of twelve people left that is not on it and never has been), but what are you going to do? The reason I wanted to come back to blogging, public statements of intent and the sense of accountability that goes along with that. I found it helps in keeping goals, but I don't want to bring this to the other community, its a bit outside their purview, and so here I am, back in familiar territory but a bit more distant. Seems like an okay position to take here, for now.

Now let's see what potential the rest of the year can bring.