“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