Pagan Cultural Appropriation

The gong echoes across the land and immediately silences the anticipation of the public gathered in their seats. Only a distant songbird is heard somewhere in the low, morning fog. The hot breath of the nearby hounds is captured in the wet, cold air as they search the grounds for scent. No breath can be seen from the audience however, for they hold it to better focus on the voices that can now be heard. It begins low, barely audible and ubiquitous. And then they appear, as though from the Otherworld. They are clad in ambient white as they walk slowly to the center of the field, the center of the audience. Their chanting grows louder as the burning herbs and branches they clutch release great pillars of smoke and mix with the fog. The crowd, respectfully reticent, simply observe them walking in a circle, as a single row, and then exit the field from where they entered. The gong is heard again and the crowd pierces the silence with cheers, for the Tailteann games have begun.

This sporting event began as funeral games in ancient Ireland when Lugh’s mortal foster-mother, Tailtiu died. She was buried in a mound in an area that eventually became Teltown. The god, Lugh, started the Aonach to honor her and commemorate her life and people from all over Ireland would gather to watch or participate in this cultural and religious ceremony. The games would include boxing, spear throwing, horse racing, swimming, archery, sword fighting, chariot racing, arranged marriages, singing, and craft competitions, as well as many others. Eventually the games died out, with a temporary revival in the early 1920’s in a time when Ireland needed a reminder of who they are and where they came from. “It’s the elite of the free state of demonstrating that even if they’re not a republic, they are culturally independent. …With much more than a sporting event, it was part of this process of nation building of a certain Irish nationhood.” -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5FKzyvzNco

I have always wanted to create my own Tailteann games for the pagans of Seattle. Held on Lughnasadh, it would be in a rented arena or soccer field where we would open and close with a small ceremony by the local Druids. The games would vary from mud wrestling and obstacle courses, to racing and children’s performances. Most of all, however, it would be a chance to reintroduce sports and exercise, as well as teamwork and camaraderie, to our ceremonies and rituals. So why haven’t I? Simply put: Because I’m not Irish. The Tailteann games were more than just honoring Lugh and the Irish-Celtic pantheon; it was a symbolic representation of culture, history, and the political obstacles of a people over ages that I have no blood ties or connections with whatsoever. It was the very essence of the free spirit of Ireland. So if I did this, it would feel to me as though I were appropriating them. And not just because there are full-blood Irish in Seattle today, but also because it’s not my place or my right.

Which brings me to cultural appropriation. Is the Wiccan Indo-European man who decides to host a public ritual in his basement to perform a Native American coming-of-age ceremony appropriating or simply honoring? What if it was strictly a Wiccan ritual instead, but casts his Circle by burning white sage and sweetgrass? It’s smaller, but does that make a difference?

12907388_f520

White Americans lack a cultural identity and history that we can call our own, and we thirst for it. So we have a tendency to take others’ and claim them as ours. This can be done with our hair styles, our clothes, food, conversation, make-up, and even our religions. I can’t help but be hesitant when I hear someone is performing a ritual the exact same way it was done in ancient Rome, and using the exact same language. Do they really have that right or are they simply honoring? And is it really all that important and effective if something so old was itself at one time, new? I struggle with this constantly. The problem I have with many Pagans is that they tend to “pick and choose” from various cultures and religions to better suit their needs. They want the prize, but not the sacrifice. Now, religion is the language of the soul. It is not skin or blood deep. If an Iranian wants to practice Santerian and go through all the devotions, prayers, and sacrifices to become this, then who am I to say they’re appropriating? If Kali tells a white woman to give everything up and devote themselves completely to her, why can’t she? If I want to get a tattoo of a Nordic rune on my shoulder, even though I’m not Norwegian or a Heathen, but because it symbolizes something very deeply personal to me, should I be able to? And when does cultural appropriation start to bleed into racism?

My friend attended a wonderful panel at Pantheacon 2015 about appropriation versus honoring. If you get the chance, I recommend hearing the podcast here:

I don’t know the answers to these questions I’m presenting and I may never. But I do know that I will constantly question everything I do in my practice to be sure I am not appropriating a culture or a deity or an idea by choosing something, stripping its identity, and making it mine. My own identity deserves better and so does theirs. So should I recreate the Tailteann games or should I create something alternative altogether? If we question our beliefs and practices and work toward honoring instead of appropriating, I believe we can grow as better individuals, as a better country, and as better Pagans. I challenge you to look at your own beings and dissect yourself. Start these conversations with your friends and get their opinions, and start talking about it. If we keep our mouths and our minds shut, we won’t grow and develop as humans.

 

 

 

A Questionable Love

I have a deep secret. One that which contradicts modern society’s social and legal ethics, and may cause you to question my mental stability. A hundred years ago, I would have been institutionalized or exiled. Three hundred, I might have been stoned. But I don’t care what you may think or your judgements; I need to get it off my chest.

I am infatuated and in love with my pocket knife. I don’t mean I think it’s kinda cool and handy. I mean cherry-blossoms-falling-on-a-warmly-lit-Spring-morning-with-a-visually-fuzzy-parameter-and-puppies-wrapped-in-fresh-white-linens kind of love. I fucking love my knife and everything about it. From the feel of it perfectly fitting in the grip of my hand, to the quick spring of the blade’s erection with just a slight pressure of my thumb. With a 3 1/2 inch blade, it can penetrate or slice anything. It is light as a feather, strong as a bull, and every centimeter of its long shaft and tip is black. (I told you.)

“There never was a good knife made of bad steel” -Benjamin Franklin

When I had decided that I would like to start carrying a pocket knife for little every day uses like slicing vegetables, trimming my nails, cutting string and cords, and helping me open Amazon boxes; I did a little online surfing to find a good, light, multi-purpose blade. Outside Magazine rated a Kershaw knife to be the best for the modern Jack-of-all-trades and so I furthered my research until I found the perfect one. Like chips with guac, the partially serrated Kershaw Black Blur Glassbreaker was a match made in heaven. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing business slacks or jeans, it fits in every pocket so comfortably it’s as though it were stitched in. I love the SpeedSafe opening mechanism that pops open the blade so quickly it’s almost a switchblade! The handle is made of anodized aluminum to keep it lightweight, durable, and scratch resistant. The handle even has a carbide tip that can break a windshield in case of emergencies. And of course being all black, it matches every outfit of mine. Seriously, this guy is my other half. Like a tiny Ninja warrior in my pocket who always has my back.

Also, I noticed something changed when I began to wear my knife in public. It’s like I was suddenly placed into this social club of knife-carrying men. A deep understanding and unsaid acknowledgement toward me by other guys who would see my knife’s clip, point to theirs, and then telepathically say, “You are a Knife-bearer, Frodo. To bear a Knife of Power is to be alone”. Apparently a clip is a tiny metal, secret societal emblem. Motorcyclists belong to something similar. Every time they encounter another, they acknowledge each other with a slight hand gesture of their first two fingers together, as though they’re invoking Baphomet. But who doesn’t like to feel like they belong to something they share with other peers? Maybe it’s derived from our evolution when we realized it was easier to survive in a tribe than without. Regardless, it’s comforting to know there are others out there who understand the extremely questionable fondness we have for our pocket knives.

Now, some individuals equate carrying a pocket knife to carrying a gun. A small knife is very different than a firearm. You have to know how to throw a knife just right for it to land blade first into your enemy at the distance they are, as well as where to aim for it be lethal. A gun can kill by pointing and pulling a trigger. How many young children have accidentally died or killed others by playing with a gun versus playing with a knife? Knives are dangerous and can kill, yes. But so is a brick or a bat if you know how to aim just right. According to the FBI, more than 8,500 deaths in 2011 was caused by a firearm, whereas over 1,000 was from a knife (https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-8). Guns are made for one purpose, knives are made for many. “Someone once told me that religion is like a knife: You can stab someone with it, or you can slice bread with it.” -Vera Farmiga

It all has to do with intention and I have gone everywhere with this guy. I backpacked across Iceland with it. I’ve worn it to meetings, concerts, games, restaurants, you name it! One time I took it along on a road trip across the country, mailed it to myself, and flew back. When a bouncer at a nightclub asks to temporarily confiscate my knife, I refuse and leave because I’m the jealous kind. I remember when I once couldn’t find it for two days. TWO DAYS! All the happiness had left the world and I was a beast ready to rip out chunks of drywall and smash furniture to dust in order to find my precious! I felt so vulnerable and incomplete. Come to find out, it was simply misplaced within the dark abyss that is my closet. But that’s when I learned that it had become more than just a tool or a weapon, it was a security blanket. I’m not sure if I’m okay with this or not but I suppose we all have little security blankets in our lives. And what better form of one to be had then if it were to be a handy pocket knife.

kershaw.png

 

 

 

Know Thyself

What a winter. I haven’t posted here for three and a half months with lots of reasons for this, of course. Going to Christmas parties, Solstice parties, and hosting my own and first-ever Yule party. Work always gets busier this time of year and the class I was taking at the time was the hardest one for me yet (woe to the Algebra student). I drank and ate a ton and never went to the gym and so I developed my annual “winter belly”. And then of course the new president of the United States was elected and inaugurated, shocked the country and the world, and created a butterfly effect everywhere.

For some people, when life gets very real and very crazy like this, they lash out in anger and protests. Emphatically going through the motions. However, I tend to close up. I’m a rabbit after all, and so I burrow myself deep into the Earth until I feel it is time to emerge again. You could accuse me of hiding and retreating and not doing my part to fight or participate, sure. But that’s not true, either. I am fighting, everyday. See, I am in school not to better my education, my income, and change careers because I’m sick of the art community. Those are added bonuses, whipped cream on a mocha. I am getting my Bachelor’s in Environmental Science so that I can make a difference. So that I can be one of the many who will help to recover this planet from our destruction. Every single day I log onto my student website, I am fighting. Those who are marching for women’s rights and for the rights of every minority; they are fighting and representing their freedom of voice. And so am I.

My original plan when I graduated was to go onto grad school and earn my MBA or MS in Environmental Policy and Management. Very vague degrees that allows me to find a career in a multitude of options, which was kind of the point since I’m still very new to this field in a professional sense. Then the inauguration occurred. The impossible was just made possible and every small seed of hope I had for it to be annulled-due to Russia’s involvement, Jill Stein fixing everything with a recount, someone leaking vital and criminal information, or Ashton Kutcher telling us we’ve been Punk’d-dissolved. That shitty morning after feeling sank in with the world’s biggest hangover headache. And I suddenly remembered Obama’s challenge from his farewell speech: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clip board, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”

Challenge accepted.

I changed my grad school plans and decided right then and there, that I was going to law school and earn my Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. With a shit ton of dedication, time and money, internships, and experience; I will shoot to work for the federal involvement of environmental quality and laws of protection. I will help oversee and care for the National Parks and reserves, recommend actions and decisions to the White House, remove or enact legal implications, and help to make a major international difference. And if this doesn’t end up becoming my career with this education, then worst case scenario I will work for a local courthouse with a job title of Nature’s Lawyer. Which is still pretty badass and effective in my book! If Trump is going to push for more finite resource industries like coal and oil and ignore climate change, then I need to step up my game so as to compensate. It is why I’m here and what my god asks of me.

It’s a high, let me tell you; finally knowing your purpose and what you want to be when you grow up. Your path laid right out with no other trails. I understand things can change and shift and I am open to allow this. But I know without a doubt, since I was 12 years old, that environmental advocacy is who I am. I encourage each of you, if you feel stuck or depressed with your career or with the current state of America, to ask yourself, ‘Is this me?’ And if it’s not, then it doesn’t matter how old you are or how much debt you have or will have if you changed, make it happen. We may have multiple lives, but this is the only one you get as this person in this body on this planet. You owe it to yourself to not waste a moment more of it not living it to your full potential of happiness and change.

“Most people in this world have no idea why they’re here or what they want to do. You do. You have a mission, a reason for being here. You’re not here by chance.” -Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 7, episode 12)

Roman-mosaic-know-thyself-1024x673.jpg

 

 

As Above, So Below.

Ok, I’m doin’ it. I’m gonna say my two cents on fat Pagans, skinny Pagans, and body shaming within our community.

I come from a pious, Born Again Christian community from a small town in Missouri. Potluck gatherings amongst my parents’ church congregation was a common occurrence for whatever occasion, because our fellow church members were a second family to us and we were all very close and supported each other. The food that you’d commonly find at these shin digs…well I just don’t think these people knew what quinoa was (let alone how to pronounce it!), and would reveal a very confused look if you suddenly added the word “tempeh” in between “grilled” and “burgers”. These were simple folk. What my father would call, “The backbone and bread basket of America”. They ate meat n’ taters and lots of butter! The only green vegetables I remember were in green bean casserole or broccoli smothered in Velveeta.

So to get to the point, I don’t think that on average, Pagans are more overweight than the members of other religions. I think that on average, Americans are more overweight. And unlike some other religions, Pagans tend to express acceptance and promote self love and self beauty. Thus like a moth to a flame, we attract those individuals who feel discrimination and loathing from their society. This isn’t just obesity however, it’s under-weight individuals as well. It’s social awkwardness, tendencies to a darker and morbid mindset, those who are into kink, sci fi fantasy and larping, gaming, body modification, polys, artists, radicals, and anyone who feels ostracized. It’s the idea that we may be a freak show to you, but we’re a loving freak show!

Getting back to the topic of body weight, however, we need to stop body shaming the Pagan community. I’m not talking about the prejudice coming from the Muggles; that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post on its own, full of it’s-none-of-your-goddamn-business statements and go-find-a-hate-group-that-believes-in-segregation suggestions. What I’m talking about is Pagan to Pagan body shaming. Internal discrimination from those we thought were loving and accepting. If you can’t cast skyclad by someone who you consider to be overweight, underweight, or not beautiful enough to your standards; then go find a hate group that believes in segregation, because it’s none of your goddamn business.

But there is a weight problem in the Pagan community. There is a weight problem in every community.

I could mention excusable factors, sure. Rare diseases that cause people to gain weight easily or medication that does the same. Genetic big-boned body structures and ethnicities that reveal more bodily curves. Or hell, I could say it’s American society’s fault. And these are completely valid excuses! But they are rare in comparison. So the real problem (here we go)… is the health. Or more true to my point, the lack thereof. A good friend of mine recently related an old saying to this issue to me. In The Emerald Tablet, supposedly written by Hermes Trismegistus (a kind of Greek god Hermes and Egyptian god Thoth combo), we find a well written out statement of a more commonly known condensed phrase: “That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing” (translation by Sir Isaac Newton, 1680). As Above, So Below.

Hermes_Logios_Altemps_33.jpg

We can apply this cryptic ambiguity to almost anything in terms of its meaning. So let’s look at it in terms of health for a moment, shall we? “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27, King James Bible). Has anyone looked at our gods, I mean really looked at them?! Most of them have barrel chests and bubble butts (did you seeee the washboard abs on Hermes above this?! Totally jelly)! I’m not saying we need to look like Adonis, but holy shit…we have got to put the occult books down for a second and jump on a treadmill. The common contemporary mindset of the Pagan man or woman exists in the health of the mind or spirit, but not of the body (I’m not talkin’ bod mod, here). We neglect this very temple that the gods and Nature have gifted us that affects so much of our daily lives, including our practice. I have been both out of shape and in shape. I have lived on fast food and sugar, and I have lived on a lean/clean plant-based diet. I am far from being a saint of healthy living and from my own goals, but I am here to tell you that I feel so much closer to my gods and so much more affective in my magick when I eat healthier and exercise regularly and push myself beyond my physical limits, than I ever did without.

It is time we make a change in our habitual mindset. It is time that we add personal health and fitness to our religious sources. Summit a mountain and look for your goddess! She lives in the wilderness far from your roads, and she lives within the love you have for your life and your health. So push yourself. Challenge yourself. Sacrifice that which contradicts this for her, because gods have to be appeased. And everything will change, this I promise. Our bodies constantly strive to maintain a healthy balance and when this doesn’t happen, consequences can sometimes occur. This can be so great as chronic diseases and illnesses, and/or so little as sleep apnea, depression, job complications. You would be amazed at what dramatic health changes can do to your whole life. Now you could easily call me a hypocrite by saying it’s still none of my business to talk about others’ bodies, health, and livelihood. It is, after all, their bodies and their decisions on how to live their lives, and not mine. True. And not true. I will never tell someone how to live their lives no matter in what form, because I had enough of that in my upbringing and it’s not my place. But I do love my fellow Pagans and I want to selfishly see them live a happy and healthy life. So I’m not here to push it, I’m here to suggest it and let you take it or leave it.

Quick Post on EBC 2016

My friend, Jacqui, asked me last Friday if I could meet up with her for drinks on Saturday. “Sorry, working the Esoteric Book Conference all weekend”, I replied. To which she followed with, “Save me a Google trip, what’s an esoteric book?”

“Occult”.

It was the second time I volunteered to work for the Esoteric Book Conference (not counting when I once represented my friend John’s company, Waning Moon publications, 3 years ago), and goddammit, I love occultists. I mean I really love them. I want to have all of their black clad babies and then sacrifice them to Cthulhu, Baphomet, Dani Filth, or who ever (little disclaimer: no, occultists don’t really sacrifice babies and in fact, are sometimes very family friendly! But their babies are dressed in black onesies). In contrast to my ignorance of the most up to date information on the printing of the fourth volume of that one book, or just about two thirds of the other books and their authors, publishers, editors, special editions, and whether or not we have the leather bound version (unfortunately it’s way more involved than how great Johnny Depp was in The Ninth Gate); I still love all of the conversations. Even when I notice they get that realization of me not understanding half of what they’re saying about two sentences in, I feel utterly at home with my people. And all I want to do is support this event to keep it alive.

The scheduled speakers are always once in a lifetime outta townie (and sometimes outta country) infamous authors that give phenomenal lectures and sign their books. Not to mention the chance to have a one-on-one convo with them if you want! Plus, the booths after booths of both rare and contemporary books. And the ART! Holy shite. This year’s art was amazing! (and yes I’m using a lot of italics in this post) I couldn’t stop staring at the Kali Ma piece or the Lord and Lady Goat diptych, both by Laura Tempest Zakroff. Or any of Adam One’s geometric awesomeness. And I kept going back to look at Benjamin A. Vierling’s work.

As far as the presentations went, I saw most of them last year (my favorite one being about necromancy), but this year I saw only a couple lectures due to my shifts there and some homework I had to finish up at home. The one that especially stood out to me, however, was called, ‘Invoking the Other: Alterity, Abjection & Dread in the Initiatory Experience’ presented by Richard Gavin. He spoke of the emotion of absolute horror, dread, and complete madness and what spiritually occurs with our psyches in that connection to the gods and to their spirits. When he spoke up of the intense vino of Dionysus and how it did so much more than just “getting his followers drunk”, I thought of that scene in the second season of True Blood when the maenad, Maryann, explained to Tara about blacking out: “Why be embarrassed of pleasure and laughter, ashamed of letting go? Control is just a cage this stupid culture uses to block out who we are. We need to be out of control- we crave it…I have a little theory about blacking out. Maybe you rose to a higher state of consciousness. What about the saints of India? What about the mystics of every religion? They would black out; run and dance through the streets. Levitate. Act like monkeys, run around naked. Everybody thought they were crazy. They were ecstatic. All that fake civilization bullshit just fell away so they could dissolve into the infinite. So they could lose themselves and unite with their god.” It was a great presentation. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him speak, I recommend it.

Oddly, this year I didn’t run into too many people I know. Which was what I always loved about it, a sort of reunion among friends. But honestly, it was kind of a blessing. It gave me the opportunity to converse and meet new people! I found new friends- new buds, and had some great conversations. I definitely look forward to volunteering the next one!

6th-annual-esoteric-book-conference1

Of Solitaires and Covens

“…I’m going to a full moon ritual on Wednesday. I thought about it after we met up last and I asked to possibly join their coven. I just feel like something’s missing.”, my buddy, Darren text me last month.

Good gods, if that doesn’t nail it on the head of how I’ve also been feeling for so long! I have been a solitaire since day one, and only know my rules and morals and ritualistic practice. But then the job gets more demanding, you add classes to your free time, and a fitness schedule. You meet a love interest, go on dates and maybe a marriage, children. A family member becomes ill, a down payment on a house, weddings, funerals, birthdays, social outings and school plays. (Or maybe start a WordPress blog on Paganism and see how often you can post on it!)
Who has time for witchcraft? Sometimes I pray. And sometimes my prayers bleed into my grocery list.

I had started a Pagan Men’s Meetup group, and it ran for exactly one year, with scheduled meetups twice a month. I had a couple of good get-togethers from it, but mostly I just sat at pubs and went on hikes alone. I just can’t afford the time to wait on people to flake. Not to mention, a bi-weekly feeling of self-failure. Don’t get me wrong; I love having me time! Like I said, I’m a solitaire; and an Aquarius, so I have a natural impulse of being a lone wolf (or so I am told). But that was never the original reason behind Green Man Meetup, but rather the opposite. It was for other dudes, like me, who lacked like-minded buddies to hang and chill with. Who wanted to explore our religion outside in the most wild, dangerous, and spiritual of places. To create a brotherhood that can be incorporated within a mostly female oriented religious system so more equality could be felt. But above all, it was for community.

So what does a solitaire Pagan do when they get a little older, get a little busier, feel a little lonely? We seek community. Friends. Family. Ritual. Ergo the coven.
“the attendants go riding flying goats, trample the cross, are made to be re-baptised in the name of the Devil, give their clothes to him, kiss the Devil’s behind, and dance back to back forming a round” -The Compendium Maleficarum (1608)

Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Witches'_Sabbath_(The_Great_He-Goat).jpg

(Witches’ Sabbath by Francisco Goya (1821-23). I was mesmerized by this image at the age of 9, when I looked up the word ‘witchcraft’ in my parents’ World Dictionary. It stated that witches sold their souls to the Devil for their magical powers. So of course, I pretended to pray to him every night and told my 3rd grade classmates that I’m a warlock and they shouldn’t piss me off. My mother grounded me.)

Oxford Dictionary states that a coven is: “a group or gathering of witches who meet regularly.” There are also groves, hearths, kindred, circles, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, assemblies, and communities respectfully. Some are Wiccan, or simply Neo-Pagan. Some are Druidic, Asatru and Heathen. Herbalists, candle-based, gender specific, orientation specific, gender and orientation specific, family friendly, skyclad only, lunar, solar, astrological based, Fey based, eclectic, and so on. And this is just within my area! So how do I choose which one I should join, if this really is the best next step for me? I’ve scoured Witchvox.com, Google, and local community flyers. I know of several groups in my area that friends of mine are members of, and I’ve spoken to them and attended their rituals. But at the end of the day, I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with each one. I guess that’s common with any friend or family member, including covens.

So the best advice I have for myself and for others out there in the same crossroad predicament that I am currently in, is to just ask yourself simple questions. It is all too common to lose yourself in all the options, politics, traditions, formats, customs, rules, morals, and initiations. But remember this all comes down to who you are at your core and how this fits in with each of these groups. Who are you and what makes up you? What is the one thing you want? Once you answer these very simple questions, your next step is to match these qualities with local groups and have a one-on-one convo with their leaders, priests, or priestesses. If you agree with most of what they say, and really get on their same page, then ask if you can attend a “trial” ritual or gathering. This way you can get a feel for other members and who they are (and if you make any friends, even better!), and how their rituals go; if they’re more by the book and structured with memorization and roles, or if it’s more free spirited with “anything goes” style and so on. See how your performance in ritual works with the group’s. And only then can a proper decision be made.

These are the same questions I am asking myself and looking at the journey ahead in finding a group. I am setting myself a time goal of Samhain to make my decision which gives me just less than two months. After weeks of meditation since my Iceland trip, I know the things I am looking for in a coven, or group. And now I am ready to reach out to various ones and start having these conversations; this next step in my pagan development. The one thing I have to remind myself is that this is for ME and MY community and if I offend or hurt the feelings of others by my decision, then those individuals would not have been good coven mates to begin with.

To those of you who are solitaire and love being so (my roommate among you), rock it. Cast it. Don’t ever doubt yourself. I so wish I could continue being one of you, but I know myself too well and I know that it’s just not working anymore. Like my buddy said, “…something’s missing.” To those of us who are at the crossroads of this change from solitaire to group (or vice versa, too, I guess), may it go smoothly and educationally.

“I will study and get ready, and maybe the chance will come.” -Abraham Lincoln

 

A Great Dragon

I watched the horses run freely together along the Atlantic coast in the setting sun as my ride takes me southbound toward Reykjavik two days ago. This is my last day in Iceland. The melodic black metal sounds of Zhrine play in the rental car’s CD player, a band the three of us had just seen perform in Iceland’s annual metal festival, Eistnaflug. A perfect soundtrack to the island’s desolate landscapes and dramatic cloud cover.

I was an idiot to think this trip was about a metal festival. I was an idiot to think this was a trip. It was a journey. A pilgrimage. A clearly undiluted, loud message from the gods that read: Get over it.

I backpacked along the southern route of the Ring Road in Iceland to get to a tiny ass fishing town on the eastern coast with a population of just over a thousand. Kinda like that quaint little Practical Magic town, only minus the pious locals and hot witches. And like Vikings coming ashore to take over the village, so do the Metalheads for four days every year in July. Two-thousand of them. And I walked/hitchhiked/camped 440 miles to be one of them. I was rained on, attacked by seagulls, constantly pestered by flies, and sunburned. I feared one of my rides was going to kill me, my pack weighed heavier each day, I got blisters on top of blisters, and the skin on my hipbones rubbed raw. But these were just surface annoyances. Toothpaste stains on a mirror. The real weight every pilgrim knows is the weight and the battle within. Here I am; surrounded by mountains, sunlit glaciers, the rolling sea, rivers, and fields upon fields of moss, lupine, and lava rock. Either the land of Faery or a supersized diorama for a little boy’s choo-choo train. And I’m bawling my fucking eyes out. I must be the only one in Iceland who does this. Pushing my physical self to its limits and surrendering to trust in the generosity of others, dished my demons out.

Get…over it.

No one can fix you but you. And sometimes it takes the absolute visual definition of natural beauty, the kind that cannot be explained by any language or camera, to make you see the absolute visual definition of darkness. Once I got to my destination, I set up my tent at the festival campground and met my neighbors. I was very fortunate for two reasons: 1.) These particular Icelanders were awesome. They’re very simple in life, utilize their resources, live for laughing, kinda backwoods, and don’t give two shits about differences because they have enough shits on their own plates to worry about yours and 2.) Metalheads are a family. Always. No matter where from, we are an ostracized niche and so we understand one another and will always be there for each other. I had an absolute blast with this group camping by me! Four days of canned Viking beer, black cloth and corpse paint, the most amazing live Icelandic metal music, laughing until I cried, and the ice-cold stillness of a mountainous fjord. What is there left to keep you from living when you’ve already ditched what remained of your identity hundreds of miles ago?

Like Americans to shopping malls, Icelanders are to swimming pools. For every morning hang over, we would zombie walk to the local swimming pool and wash the stench and headaches away from the previous night in showers, two pools, two different temperature hot tubs, a sauna, and a huge kick-ass water slide! One day whilst soaking in the shallow pool, I met a purple haired chick and a bearded man. Come to find out they were from Seattle, too! Furthermore, we shared the same flight back. So obviously I hit them up for a ride and for three days after the festival, we explored the mythical wonders of northern Iceland. We soaked in geothermal pools and explored the haunting lava towers of Dimmuborgir. We drooled in the Motorcycle Museum and laughed at the awful tour guide for the ruins of Erik the Red’s homestead. We sipped coffees in Akureyri, looked within the majestic falls of Godafoss where the gods fell, boarded a Viking long ship, and shared our interests and lives. Who knew something so serendipitous would have been pool soaking a foot away from me? All we have to do is say hello.

Clearly I was getting over it.

They took me all the way to the Keflavik airport where the huge art structure of Valhalla’s rainbow bridge stood erect. As I sat in seat 34D for 7 hours, listening to Gojira on my iPod, I thought of having to immediately jump back into school and work and all of my mundane routines. I thought of the stress, number crunching, and tasks waiting for me in Seattle. And then I smiled, knowing it was all a petty nothing in comparison of who I am and what I can do.

“…But I grow impatient
Cannot stand the wait
And I start to dig
Within me
This tunnel to I
In this region of me
A great dragon is lying
On the wealth of a mighty world
My own world inside
I saw- I saw monsters”
-Gojira
KIMG0238

 

May’s almost over?!

Oh man. So much for writing on this blog regularly! I swear, life is like the land of Faery; you get enticed by cake and dance, a couple shots of brandy, a little brown-chicken-brown-cow and BAM! Three years have gone by when you swear you’ve only danced an hour, tops!

April was a rough month for me. Full of loved ones who chose to make poor decisions, one after another, and me having to learn one of the hardest lessons in life to learn- having to watch them burn and not being able to do anything about it, other than letting them know I’m here for them if they need me. In fact, I’m still learning this lesson because it is a bitch to accept.

And that’s really all I wish to say about that.

May has proven to be much better! I began the month with my annual attendance at a  kick-ass Beltaine ritual in Ravenna Park in Seattle, run by the fabulous Radical Faeries (if you’ve never heard of the Radical Fae organization, they’re a large group of gender bending pagan awesomeness! You can check out more here: http://www.radfae.org/)! It was a beautiful, sunny day and full of laughter and friends. (shirtless me on the right)

17623

Since then, I’ve mostly just been plugging away with work and school! I did finally see a band perform here that I’ve been dying to see live for years! Amon Amarth is a viking death metal band and every time they’re in town, I’m outta town. Hella annoying. This year however, I was finally able to see them and decided to post the event on my Meetup.com, Seattle Metalheads site. I also organized it so that those who were planning to attend could meet me at Pike Place Brewery across the street, for a little pre-show grub n’ drinks! Two guys and two gals showed up at the restaurant, and they all had just moved here. One was from Oklahoma, one from Texas, one from Massachusetts,  and one from Brazil. They had come to the brewery for the same reason I had: to find friends in the American metal community, an ever ostracized niche. It proved to be a huge success! Everyone was very respectful of each other’s differences and had such a great time that we even stuck together for the duration of the show. And we still keep in touch and invite each other to shows and events via text.

But even if there wasn’t a rare-for-me viking death metal band playing, or sharing it with my new viking death metal band loving friends, there is something about simply being at a metal show that I cannot explain. When I first arrive and the opening band is just starting, there’s a lot going on. People are coming and going from the bar, they’re searching for open seats (if there are any), they’re still congregating outside, grabbing something from the merch table before it’s gone, and empty spaces are filling up. And throughout all this, a wave of calm silence comes over me. Kinda like when you’re in a bath and you let your head sink below the water surface and your hearing is now confined to the inner walls of your head. This happens to me at …every …show. And when this happens, I am overwhelmed with comfort. Like I’m at a family reunion and there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be. All of my problems and worries and concerns melt away as a wave of familial love and comfort wash over me. Sounds like a humorous contradiction at a heavy metal concert, I know. Think of it this way: If heavy metal is about anger, trauma, sorrow, and rage; then those who enjoy it must understand these emotions and maybe coping with their own. And when they congregate together, it’s only natural there’ll be an unsaid deep respect and bond between everyone. Kinda like group therapy. Also! I once read a research article where these scientist guys discovered that the “random” patterns of individuals in a mosh pit replicate the exact patterns of a school of fish! How rad is that?! Science.

Speaking of metal, I’m also getting ready to travel to Iceland’s metal festival, Eistnaflug, next month! I haven’t been to a European metal festival for two years and I can’t wait! I’m also looking forward to viewing the new Asatru temple (albeit still under construction), Iceland’s first Norse pagan temple in 1,000 years! Plus the Blue Lagoon of course. Stoked! I’ll hafta write a blog post when I get back. Until then, keep it metal! \m/

“So what do you do?”

It is easy to feel alone. Here we are in an over populated world of constant digital communication, specialized dating sites, forums and websites catering to people (from girls named Rebecca to moviegoers), surrounded by our peers in cities and schools, concert venues and offices. And I think we all know it is yet, still easy to feel completely alone. And due to being a minority religion, maybe it’s more common to feel this way as Pagans. In 2008, the Academic Registration Information System (ARIS) states that there are 342,000 American individuals who identify as Wiccan, and 340,000 who identify as neo-Pagan (http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_nbr3.htm). Depending on specific sects, the majority of these Wiccans and neo-Pagans are women. When considering those more male-dominated sects (Asatru, Odinism, and Druidry), they’re still out numbered (http://www.academia.edu/7969429/Gender_and_Paganism_in_Census_and_Survey_Data). Now most guys I know are pretty cool hangin’ with anyone and becoming good friends with the Christian father of two down the street, so long as they respect each other. But I have ordered at MOD Pizza before in downtown Seattle, and seen the bearded man behind the toppings bar light up with a huge smile, and reveal his Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) necklace from behind his shirt, and greet me with a nod. There is an unsaid understanding that is deeply personal and thus, gratifying when you meet someone who shares similar religious beliefs as yourself.

Last summer, I started a Meetup group for Pagan men called, Green Man. It is a chance for Pagan guys to take a break from their hectic lives and meet some new like-minded peeps. We meet up twice a month; once a month in a social environment (like a bar or a café) and once a month outside (like on a trail or a river). I started this Meetup for two reasons: 1.) I remember what it was like only having non-Pagan friends nearby and no one able to relate to you like that, and 2.) When I just exhausted myself summiting a mountain by drinking my CamelBak dry 3mi ago, snagging my new shirt, and feeling my knee lock up only to realize that I still have to go back down; I get to the top and see the beautiful majesty that only Nature has and ever will have. The sight and the silence that follows after tearing apart and sacrificing every last comfort zone you had left to the mountain, to the rushing river, to the woods, to the constant sun, or to the unforgiving sea; is humbling. It’s spiritual. And it is when I feel the closest to being a man before my god. (id est: It is a crazy fucking high and I wanna share that shit)

Yesterday, a really bad wind storm hit and many Seattleites lost their power due to it, including traffic lights found on the same grids. I was on my way to a friend’s house on the 522, stuck in this stop-and-go traffic, when I received a notification on my Meetup app on my cell phone. The members in my Green Man Meetup are mostly guys who identify as Pagan, but a lot of them are not. The latter are either dudes who are curious about the religion and would like to meet others to learn more, or simply are just members to get out and have fun. And so a guy posts on there asking, “what do pagan men do exactly?” Thanks to a small town, Midwestern upbringing, this little-defensive teenager inside of me is always ready for revenge (and Pizza Rolls) and really wanted to reply, “We give each other naked bro-hugs and hump trees, what the hell do you think we do?!” But I knew that the guy was honestly curious and probably worked himself up to ask so publically. As I just learned from this documentary film I watched on Thursday called, The Mask You Live In (which is an awesome film, I totally recommend it!), I’m reminded I need to be more constructive in my communication. So as I’m inching from one lightless traffic light to another and being pelted by rain, I’m swirling that question around in my head. What do Pagan men do? How does it differ from any other man? How does it differ from Pagan women, or from a mixed gender group? The more I attempt to answer this in my head, the more I come up short. So I put the task aside until I returned home from my friend’s house. And when I did just this, I learned very quickly there was a 1000 character limit for posting on there. I rewrote it and rewrote it, discussing different styles of practice, pantheons, hobbies and interests, covens and solitaires, and even mentioning mead making! Deleting it each time.

Finally, I took a deep breath and a sip of my porter.

Pagan men do exactly what non-Pagan men do. The only difference is that we can relate and understand each other better than we can to someone who does not share our beliefs. Yes, there is a higher chance we may have shared interests in music, literature, and art as these are emotion driven, like our religions. But that’s not always the case, and it’s really about feeling free to act however you want to act and to say those things that you would normally leave out when you’re chatting it up with your sister’s boyfriend. Maybe the only real way that separates us from non-Pagans, is how we see things; how we view our world and our surroundings. But how do I really know this? How do I really know what my Atheist buddy feels after he summits a mountain and sees his accomplishment, or his Buddhist girlfriend beside him, for that matter? No, I think we’re just like everyone else. Except we have more candles.

fire

Altering to the Altar

Several months ago, I was alone in my home on my day off and I heard a murder of crows just outside the door, and then it was suddenly quiet. When I opened the door, I noticed that our “We’re All Mad Here” Cheshire Cat doormat was tossed aside and the three pennies that my witchy roommate had placed under it for good fortune, had been arranged in a nice and even row, one above the other. Weird. I replaced the mat back onto the pennies and shut the door. Not five minutes later, I hear more crow cackling going on just outside the door. Opening it, I notice that the mat had, once again, been tossed aside to reveal three shiny pennies. Except this time the pennies were evenly rearranged in a row side by side. Am I in a fucking fable?! Once again, I replace the mat and shut the door (albeit skeptically looking at the trees as I slowly shut the door). And once again, the party of crows yammerin’ away at the exact spot. This time, the exposed pennies were arranged as three points of an invisible triangle. And then the crows left and that was that. And I poured out my beer.

I told a client who is into Biblical numerology about the story some days later, and she snatched my calculator nearby and proceeded to write all these math equations down on scrap paper and punched the calculator emphatically. Then she’d pause and laugh hysterically, and punch in some more numbers- scratching down the answers on the paper. From my Western mind, she looked like a crazy lady found in some downtown city! (But I have to remind myself: If that same crazy lady was once known as the Oracle of Delphi, would she still be crazy? …Probably, but we’re all mad here, right? And maybe that’s the point.) Suddenly, she stood up straight, threw back her shoulders, and announced the answer to whatever she was trying to figure out. “It was a message! [The crows] were trying to tell you that your upcoming year will be very spiritual and religious for you.” Makes sense. Three pennies in three separate arrangements (done by crows!) is steeped in religious symbolism. And so far, I’d say that’s been pretty accurate, actually!

Now, I was pretty active within my religion already; practicing in public, and in private, in rituals with groups and covens. I also would do the occasional little spellwork, volunteer at the Esoteric Book Conference, and attend social outings and discussion groups that were hosted by friends. But what I had done over the years, that I didn’t even realize, was begin to lose touch with my religion. My relationship with my god, and with Nature. So to remedy this, I did the one thing I’ve never done; I erected an altar (cue the lightning and storm winds and the poor, reluctant ox; dragged to his fate).

I always associated altars with the Church, which was a little too close to home for me. I felt that all my tables, counters, and shelves were little altars and I can practice my craft on them because after all, isn’t our religion found in everything? On everything? And for more than half my life, this worked just fine; I’ve got deities scattered everywhere! But then, those little altars would get random things thrown on ’em. Bills and junk mail, car keys, pocket knife, pens. As though these little altars were ironically symbolic of my life; void of religion, of personality, and stifled with junk mail. I needed a REAL altar. A little place, close to my closeness, that which nothing but sacred and intention rests on. So I found me a little wooden table and placed it right by my bed, under the window in my bedroom. I Dremel’d totem animals onto it. I added items and tools and images of deeply personal love and reasons. I went to my friend’s shop, Gargoyles Statuary in Seattle, and purchased the Green Man face that spoke to me the clearest, and hung it just above the altar. I added a green altar cloth and two empty Gulden Draak bottles, one white and one black, that my best friend and I drank together when we camped in the magical old-growth woods by Mt St Helens. I placed Spring flowers in the bottles and some fake green ivy on the wall above Green Man. Slowly, my new altar became a space (that wasn’t a space) that I’ve never had in my home. When I look upon it, in the calm of the evening or the brightness of the morning, I feel the exact same way as I do when I’m in a clearing in the woods. Some would call this a “nemeton”, a sacred place. Where the trees that surround you are still, and the birds are quiet. And the light above shines down and you feel a strange calm. Like it’s 1:30pm on a Sunday and it’s gonna stay that way no matter how long you stand there. I love that feeling and I only feel it when I’m in a clearing in the thickest of woods. And whether I’m praying, practicing, or just…being there, I now feel that exact same way when I’m at my altar.

There are other ways my life has become more religious and spiritual, in their own right, lately (crows are hella smart!). But this has definitely become one of the more important ones as it helps me to just reset my day and take a moment for me and my religion. I hope that, if anyone who is reading this who does not already have themselves a little nemeton, they can find a place (that isn’t a place) somewhere and breathe.

woods