On the Threshold, Looking Forward

So I’ve been thinking about initiation, and how I may have been getting it wrong.

The way I remember people talking about initiation in circles I once ran in, it’s always a singular moment, a traumatic event – one dramatic ritual where you are rattled, overwhelmed, the top of your head is torn off and divine wisdom poured directly onto your brain, and from that moment forth nothing is the same again. Even leaving aside people’s tendencies toward wild exaggeration, it was still always a one time thing that changed you forever somehow.

That type may make for more entertaining (or more easily exaggerated) stories, but I don’t think it’s the only way, or perhaps even the most common way. Sometimes, maybe even often, it’s more gradual. It’s laying down a foundation through repetitive action, doing the same ritual with the same symbols again and again, meditating on the same concept again and again, until it’s ingrained deep within you and then it just clicks, falls into place. The change in world view and personality is taken in steps, phases that start small and build on each other, you may not even notice it happening right away – though if you do, it still won’t be as overwhelming as the tear your head off variety.

(In fact, without this more work based mode, does the first variety really count for anything in the long term? It’s intense in the moment, yes, but emotional highs fade, memories degrade; if you don’t ground the experience in some more tangible way on a regular basis, do you lose it in time?)

So some time back, I started trying to do the Sphere of Protection (one version found here) as a daily routine. John Micheal Greer has said the way the exercise is presented, the adding in each step one at a time, serves as an initiation. I don’t think I knew that at the time I first adopted it, it was in a book I bought while I was looking for advice and seemed a good enough place to start. It’s been a very touch and go process, derailed multiple times, once deliberately when the messages about something big having changed became too loud and all I could think to do was cease all activity to investigate the claim; over the last year though it’s been subject to my continual frustrations over my inability to get anywhere, to pin point that change so I could work with it, move on damn it. The cycle would be I thought I’d hit some enlightenment, it would go well for increasingly short amounts of time and then it would fall apart and my mood would plummet with it; sometimes the mood change happened without any enlightenment, I would just start to feel so hopeless, that my efforts weren’t amounting to anything so why bother?

It really came to a head two months in the fall, where I did almost nothing and came as close as ever to giving up. But for whatever reason, around October’s end a switch was flipped, and with grim determination I picked this thing back up with the intention of getting through it. I stripped it of anything unnecessary that might get in the way of accomplishing that goal – which meant no invoking gods, keeping meditation to the ritual, the elements, so on. And I got to it.

I made it this time. And in doing so, I realized I’d been wrong to stop it in the first place. Because it’s an initiation and the process needs to complete.

There was some indication of that, but I can be a bit slow on the uptake at times. The Hierophant was a frequent visitor in my daily divination, one month in particular I picked it almost every day. That had me looking through the internet for as much information, as many different takes as I could find, hoping for some special insight into this loud message. Not a good card to do that with, that’s one that brings out people’s biases in full force. Tradition is what my brain settled on, and from there unraveled it – follow the tradition, do the work, keep it up.

Those dark moods still showed up, but this time I noticed the daily tarot reading would predict their arrival. Not the same card every time, a small number of them, similar themes; before I used to think it an indication I was doing something wrong, again, so when that feeling of hopelessness came, it would get wrapped up in it and make everything worse. Now, I had six to twelve hours advanced warning, I could brace myself for it, impress upon myself that no matter what I would be there doing the ritual tomorrow. Not only did that work, the depression never hung around more than a day.

Maybe this was all part of the process? Left over negativity that needed to surface before it could be released? Or is it a matter of new ideas, the new tradition laying its foundation, the old foundation needing to be torn out first and encountering resistance? I did a lot to leave bad ideas behind, the obvious ones from the more unstable crowds, but then there’s the ones that are less obvious, the ones that have become so ingrained you think that’s just the way things are.

I think it’s high time I stepped back from NeoPaganism as a whole – not just a particular denomination or organization, but the whole damn thing. I admit, I’ve really soured on it of late, from both enlightening group conversations about its flaws and short comings seen from the outside, and behavior I’ve been seeing from within. I don’t see a healthy tradition, I see something in rapid decline, tearing itself to pieces on the way out. I know there are people who strongly disagree with that, and okay; this is just my perspective as someone that used to be involved in the community, disappeared for a number of years, tried to come back and was horrified by what I saw – I was not inside the gradual transformation to its current state, I just see the end result. Time will tell I suppose; meanwhile, I want to be clear of the splash zone, I need something more stable.

And it is always possible something of it will survive after a large number of its current adherents have purged themselves and moved on to other things, after a large number of its current organizations have flopped. In spite of my sourness, part of me hopes so. It did introduce or popularize ideas into alternative spirituality that I hope to see salvaged, spread further. Like polytheism; like the idea that spirituality doesn’t have to be an entirely celestial, eyes to the heavens escape from the earth affair.

Another cause for the sourness is looking back over the last fifteen years or so and asking myself what exactly has it brought me in terms of growth, of progress? It got me started, got me out the gate, but after that? It seems sometimes like I’ve been stuck in one place for years, looking around, asking well what next and getting jumbled crap as an answer. If all I had wanted was to worship the gods and celebrate holidays, then I would’ve been set, NeoPaganism (and especially the traditions I was involved with) are good at that. And there is nothing wrong with stopping there, but that wasn’t where I wanted to stop. And deeper paths are harder to find, and what guidance there is can make it deadly to navigate.

The deeper paths is where the total lack of definition or structure becomes a fatal weakness. At least in my opinion. Spirituality is whatever you want it to be, whatever you feel like it is, do whatever you want; can sound good in theory maybe, but in practice it can be a mess that produces knowledgeable and competent people by accident rather than by design, and not reliably at that. With no rules, no structure, few questions asked, how do you ever avoid the situation that I saw: people mistaking astral static, other people’s thoughts or their own wish fulfillment fantasies for divine revelation or commandment?

A phrasing I saw over on Ecosophia some weeks back regarding NeoPaganism, “focused more on emotional states than spiritual realities” has stuck with me. I think that explains a lot of what I saw in the places I’ve been, as well as where I personally started to go wrong. The ways in which my relationship with Hermes, or the way that I perceived it, became very unhealthy, unmoored from anything but what it symbolized to me, overloaded with emotional weight and hung like a millstone around my neck. With that all play no work attitude, what can any of it be but feelings, little stories you tell yourself, an emotional high you chase after with increasing desperation as it fades further and further from view?

The more time that goes by, the more convinced I am that relationship is over. Or at least over for now. I tell myself not to worry over it, to just let things come as they will, whatever it is I’ll just have to deal with it; the longer I can keep that mindset going the longer it is that I don’t think about it at all. Though that sense of fear, tied into the symbolism and emotional weight, still crops up, and maybe will for a while yet. I don’t know what happened, and maybe never will – is it something that was never meant to be, or a glimpse of a path I could’ve taken, was maybe being set up for before some turn in the road closed that door forever? I used to lean toward the latter, but it’s the former I now look at more and more. I wonder if I didn’t make a few assumptions early on there, when he showed up out of the blue to help me out, that I should not have made? Read things into the situation that were not there, things I never questioned and no one else did either, because of the foundational assumptions of the groups themselves about the way spiritual realities work? That image of myself on the spiritual path, bursting out the gate and then remaining stuck in one place for so damn long – maybe he was only ever meant to get me started but I was always going to end up elsewhere, only I never moved because I mistakenly thought I was home? Possible, very possible.

I’ve found myself drawn into John Micheal Greer’s works, having stumbled upon it by coincidence and then staying because it’s been helping me out, helping me make sense of things; also his online presence attracts an interesting crowd of thoughtful people with little to no drama (quite the novelty for me I’m sorry to say). Anyway, I’ve decided to embrace that. Maybe an example of when the student is ready the teacher appears, if in book and blog post form; I have some reason to think that. I ended up coughing up money for his Dolmen Arch course, after his announcement of its pending publication I got a strong push this was something I needed to do, and divination confirmed it. A very strong push, since that was more money than my poor self will usually spend on a single book, much less a blind purchase even from an author I otherwise know is solid. At least I’ll only have to pay for the first volume, I mentioned it to the family and volume two has been pledged as a birthday present, so that’s good. And there’s two to five years worth of work to get me started.

I’ve considered whether or not to join AODA, go whole hog into the Druid tradition he writes about. I remember coming across the organization many years ago when someone I then knew had a passing interest in joining (and then didn’t; AODA dodged a bullet there, let me tell you); I remember being impressed by some of their training requirements, particularly the part around environmental concerns – make three changes in your own life, no your activism does not count. Very impressed, but it didn’t amount to anything then. If he was still the archdruid I probably would, but as it is I don’t know what the organization looks like from the inside, if it still operates by the same principals that keep a lot of problems and drama at bay. The dangers of tying yourself spiritually to the wrong group is not a lesson I need learn twice, I’d investigate carefully before trying again. It’s something I may ask after in time, but it’s not a huge priority right at the moment (though hey, if by chance someone reading this is/was a member, feel free to comment and fill me in).

In addition to that, or perhaps directly tied into it, something I hesitate in mentioning but feel I probably should if only to rid myself of its weight – I may have been adopted a few Irish gods. And that is really weird.

This is not a new thought, I’ve had it before; no it’s not the wrong one from last year, it’s older than that, it dates from when I was still unhappily trapped on the other side of the country and discovering the one bright spot that was vacationing on the coast. My then dormant and defeated spiritual instincts were roused on that trip to the beach (along with many other things that in a year’s time worked to launch me to a better place), I thought I came into contact with something that felt Celtic, and my mind spat back Manannan mac Lir. It seemed so out of nowhere I thought it had to mean something, I held on to it for a while, kind of half incorporating it alongside the thing with Hermes I’d hoped to rebuild; in time though, its out of nowhere quality began casting long shadows of doubt and I discarded it in favor of something more familiar. See the thing is, I looked into Irish mythology a long time ago, when I first found NeoPaganism, because I am mostly Irish (with a big helping of Scottish thrown in there, too), so what the hell? I found Celtic mythology (in general) entirely unengaging, not only not bringing me in but actively pushing me away. Why? I don’t really know. I enjoy the history of the Celts, things about the culture, I have a bad habit of hanging around Druids and Druid organizations, I love the languages the Celtic branch is my favorite language family and the one I dive back into most often (language learning has grown into a side hobby of mine, one I haven’t discussed much here); I even like some of the themes, the world view revealed in Celtic myths when one steps back and discusses them separately, but the myths themselves? Aside from one Welsh story, yeah not really.

And yet, at the times I relax my mind and my expectations, this is what comes through. It’s not always like that, too often I find myself taking the repeating themes and patterns in my meditations and forcing it through a particular lens, something more familiar, more expected. Sometimes now I can catch myself doing it (I think I can credit the regular banishing ritual to that growing awareness), but often it’s unconscious – the remnants of an old foundation, the basic unquestioned assumptions about the way things are, trying to impose its layout on the new structure being erected on its grounds. My brain has resisted this, and its every resistance, its every attempt to force a different image has always led to the same dead end; and from out of that dead end, the same idea of something or someone Celtic awaits. Pushing through to the complete banishing ritual has only made this more intense, more difficult to ignore.

I don’t know what to make of it, but I probably ought to try getting to the bottom of it. Maybe it’s just some passing bit of weirdness, maybe it’s a temporary situation or something I need to learn, or maybe it’s the new state of affairs, for whatever reason. And maybe I’ll learn how to deal with my disinterest in Celtic mythology. Hell, maybe the disinterest will change, I’ve heard of it happening.

I did not intend for this to be a new year’s post, believe it or not this is just when things happened to wrap up. But since it is, I don’t think I’m allowed to hit publish without some commentary on the passing decade. That decade really sucked. It began with my preparing to move somewhere that I never should have moved to (though the circumstances being what they then were, I’m not sure what I could’ve done differently), and from that low point it was a near constant stream of shit, one disaster after another, losing friends I kind of wish I hadn’t as well as ones I wish I’d never made to begin with. Five years it took to strip me of just about everything I’d built for myself since moving out into the world and into the NeoPagan community three years prior; it took the next five years to pick myself up from that onslaught and figure out how to move on. Or start to figure it out.

This decade, with some degree of understanding gained, some sense of direction found, some actual training accomplished and more on its way, is looking a lot better.

The Masks They Wear

Well, it’s certainly been a while now, hasn’t it? And not for a lack of anything to say, in fact it’s been a very busy, interesting, frustrating and enlightening year. And that was part of the problem, really: what to say, how much to say and how to actually get any of it out.

This is not the first time I’ve sat down to write this very post, it’s the fifth. The first time was early spring, so these attempts were spaced out. I would get so far with it, and then something would cause me to stumble, I’d glance over what I’d done and it would strike me as all wrong. It served as a good indication that I had not actually gotten to the bottom of the matter yet. So it will be interesting to see if I finish this time and hit that publish button, it might be the final sign that I’ve reached the end of this particular puzzle.

But let’s go back to the beginning. I started the year on a high note, I had managed something I had always struggled with: a consistent daily ritual routine. I’ve been over this before, but to review: my self discipline is garbage and the various disorders that I live with can make that worse. I tried to tell myself, and others, that regular practice was not necessary, that it was an overstrict and unreasonable expectation from overstrict and unreasonable people. I did that for a long time, but eventually I had to sit down and have one of those hard conversations with myself – do I think that because it’s what I actually believe, or do I want to believe that because it’s something I have a hard time with? And I had to admit it was the latter, and furthermore that such people had a point: if you’re going to master something, be good with something, you need to work at it every fucking day. Sporadic attention will only take you so far, and that’s fine if so far is where you want to go; I didn’t, I wanted more, and being as reality will not suspend its rules on account of my difficulty, I needed to change myself.

And I had managed it, for over three months (if I’m being honest it wasn’t every single day, the time covered holidays that involved busy schedules and travel and no time at home, but they were the exceptions, I hadn’t worked out how to deal with the exceptions yet, I was very aware of the ritual’s absence and got back into it the very next day, so I still consider it a win). I was excited, I was going to come on here to brag; and then I hit the wall that has been my obsession for the rest of this year.

It didn’t come out of nowhere, there had been signs along the way (going back a number of years), that I wasn’t sure how to interpret beyond noticing the pattern, that I kept in the back of my mind while focusing on other things. I don’t know if it was a matter of too much time going by, or if it was the string of wins I was wracking up, the layer of solid ground that was developing under my feet, that the gods decided to stop letting me ignore it. There was a shadow growing over everything I did, a certain discomfort building.

You’re missing something, what you’re doing is not adding up. Something is different, something has changed. You need to figure it out.

So I gave up my routine, even knowing I’d have to struggle back up again from the bottom of the fucking mountain at some future date. Some would say I should not have done that, never stop your devotions, and I can see the point of that, really, but at the same time I didn’t know what else to do. Something was wrong and I had no idea what, the only plan I could come up with was to suspend all operations and start systematically poking at the every surface until the problem reveals itself.

So that’s been my year (well, barring the summer where I had wilted into uselessness): poking, testing, getting hints, reading, studying, weaving elaborate theories, making many, many mistakes along the way, often ones that should’ve been easily avoidable. I have, by turns, felt close to the gods and hopelessly distant; intrigued by the new information and the strings of weird coincidences, and ready to slam my head against the wall just to make this stop.

Times like this, my solitary status can feel like a burden. I think back to when I had circles of like minded friends and distant acquaintances I could bounce these ideas off of; people who had been there, done that, and could assist a confused person with a diagnosis. The internet could be helpful with that. But then I also remember echo chambers, spreading trends and cults of personality; I can look back to a couple years worth of alleged gnosis I’d written down that read like inane jumbled horseshit to me now, all from when I’d (inadvertently, and stupidly) drifted into a very insular group where everything was tightly focused on one person’s fantasy life. Questions and gnosis and difficulties can be spun in any number of interesting, and flagrantly incorrect, directions if one is determined to look at things through a particular lens and, intentions aside, someone can be lead very far off course.

And I can do that myself, as well. I’m very much a head person, I live in my own mind and I think, obsessively. It’s both a strength and a character flaw. And left to my own devices, it can run wild. I can lose track of where an idea came from, did it originate with me or outside of me, or if it’s something I noticed in the course of reading does it really have the weight I’m attaching to it? That is a point where I do think having another knowledgeable person to bounce these ideas off of would’ve helped, someone else might’ve better caught some of this before my mind got carried away. It’s often possible to draw lines between things if you look at them long enough, and I don’t mean it’s bullshit sometimes those lines are genuinely there, but it doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you (or not in the way you’re looking at it). There was one error I’d gotten hung up on for a couple months, because I could make a lot of logical sense of it, it all tied in with each other in a way that looked a little too neat and tidy – in my own mind, that is, when put into actual practice it instantly fell flat. I remember the divine commentary on it much later, after it had been put to rest: It was a really interesting coincidence. Still a coincidence.

So why don’t you put it into practice earlier, I can hear someone asking me, since that is the arena where all theories must live or die. And I agree, I know, and yet I don’t do it, I get lost in my own mind and ignore the physical world. And probably end up wasting a lot more time that way. I recognize this, I’m trying to do better, but it’s not always easy to pull yourself out of that spiral.

And another cause of that spiral is left over baggage from the Dark Years: the mental break, the time with that very insular group, the circumstances which produced the inane rambling horseshit that was a big tangled knot of my projections and insecurities and other people’s projections and insecurities. Those years are firmly in the past, but this is the first time since then venturing out into the murky waters of let’s call it spirit work, and I’m finding it intimidating, dealing with UPG or making grand proclamations about how things have changed, when I was so wrong before. I understand better how those mistakes were made, I’m not in a depressive headspace, but there is still that worry, that shadow of doubt. And I need to confront that, I need to get over it; if this is what my life is going to be, and I want it to be, this is one of the conditions that come with that. I have no doubt part of this is all about getting me past that intimidation, and I’ve stepped up to the plate, I haven’t shrunk back from it, from any of the mistakes or only partial truths of recent months; I’m just overly cautious on this first run, and thus obsessing over things maybe a bit too much, maybe demanding a lot more evidence ahead of time than I really need.

And it’s also possible that I’ve been subconsciously dancing away from the truth, every time it rears its head, hints at its existence, for reasons that may range from simple disbelief that this could be the case to maybe a fear of what it will mean. That I keep explaining it away and retreating to a proxy scenario, something that feels safer, something that is close, yes, but not still not right.

That is a possibility that’s become harder and harder to dismiss. I’ve systematically poked and prodded every wall, but there was one place I’d ignored, because it had not occurred to me it was on the table – the surroundings, sure, not the central pillar. But no, it’s all on the table, even, maybe especially, that central pillar.

I’m not ready to make any (semi) public announcements here, past experience has also made me gun shy about rushing into such things and this, I think, is a lesson I should keep. But I am ready to say two things, one that was an early revelation and has since solidified; the other, well let’s say I am also very certain of part of it, even if I am still working out the full extent of it (and if this time I finish and publish, I may take it as an omen that I’ve reached the correct ballpark).

The first was the total abandonment of a Greek cultural framework. That came through early, it was very clear and unambiguous, and my mind had no reason to try and make it so. Probably this message came through years ago, though I had interpreted it as leave the Hellenic Reconstructionst community, which I did, and then had little opportunity to further explore. I actually suspect this has been in play all along, as I think back to the struggles I went through trying to include other elements or other gods from the pantheon, because I felt like I should, and it never working out, often because Hermes himself stepped in and put a stop to it. In trying to pick up a practice again, that was where I defaulted, it was what I knew best, diving back into reading about ancient culture to reacquaint myself and find a good starting place, to maybe follow up on a few things I’d long had an interest in there, and then the foot came down. Forget it, all of it, it’s not meant to be.

Yet the underlying instinct to look for tradition, rather than the grab bag of whatever you feel like, was still present and that brings us, in part, to the second item.

This has been a very slow process, a slow understanding and acceptance, and I think most of the research I’d been prodded on was ultimately about bringing this to light, if in a somewhat roundabout way. That the aspect of Hermes I interact with is a syncretic one. I do not know if this is a more recent phenomenon, if, as in the phrasing I frequently see in oracles, something has changed, or if maybe it’s always been this way. That is one of those questions my overactive brain could take and run away with in a desperate attempt to fully understand this whole mess; I doubt I will ever really know, one way or the other.

The way Hermes appeared to and interacted with me had seemed starkly different from what a great majority of Hellenic Polytheists described (at the time): I didn’t see the Messenger of the Gods, nor the Light Hearted Lord of the Marketplace, or the more recent Holy Hipster of the Internet. I had noticed at the time, but thought little of it. I’d had a few friends then that also counted Hermes as a patron of sorts and saw him very similar to me – I remember remarking on it to them, at least once, that I hardly recognize my Hermes in the poetry shared on e-lists, and having the sentiment agreed with, so I was not in the boat alone. But gods are complicated and some more complicated than others, there were likely very good reasons why we saw the face we did and other people did not, and vice versa. I find it to be a point of curiosity now, lessened perhaps by the presence of those old friends who were then, and still are now as far as I know, interacting with Hermes. Of course the both of them also had far more ties to the rest of the Greek package, whereas he was the only thing keeping me there.

He also rarely showed up with the classical trappings that Hermes ought to have. And I don’t know if that was always true and it just took me a while to notice it, or if it changed at some point. The downside of not journaling I suppose, but I doubt small details like that would’ve struck me worth recording. He did come with a few other trappings that were not attested to in ancient lore or practice, but were very consistently present for me. Again, I didn’t worry about this much, then, only started raising an eyebrow at it when it began growing in more recent times. Because every one of them was something that made logical sense, that looked like it belonged in his sphere even if the Greeks did not recognize it as such, and I could explain it to people in a clear way that they would understand, so it never seemed a problem.

Thing is, the reading I got prodded into doing, even the initial quick bits I was finding through internet searches, all of those extra non Greek trappings, they’re all accounted for at the other end of the syncretization line. All of it. It’s been a little eerie, watching all that come together.

It’s been an interesting journey that has kind of gone all over the place; at the end of this trip through online information, what I could find in my local library (and that could be better) and, *massive tired sigh* very brief glimpses into certain corners of the Pagan community, that I very quickly abandoned lest the insane amounts of drama, argument and infighting I saw front and center put me off the entire endeavor.

(I’m not pretending the community was wonderful when I was a mostly happy part of it, there was always drama, argument and infighting, but it’s not just gotten worse over time, it’s kicked into overdrive. I had seen discussion, among those few people I still pay attention to, about how bad it’s gotten, and yet I was still surprised. I no longer have the energy nor the patience to deal with shit like that, the benefits are not worth the cost. Now I also hear from those same few people, about many small private groups that keep to themselves and just practice their religion; I hope to eventually cross paths with them. Until then.)

Anyway, I ended up mostly focusing on two cultures, two points of interest, one entirely new and…well, one that just kept on coming up, even in my research of the first, but I kept moving away from it, talking myself out of it.

Syncretic deities were nothing I’d ever thought much about, because (or so I believed) I’d never run into one. It’s the sort of thing my brain could also run away with, down some rabbit hole I’d never find my way out of: how does it happen and what does it mean? Does it create a third being, or a meeting place of sorts, a mask that both separate gods have access to? Interesting questions to contemplate, that I could distract me forever until I have what grasp on it my limited mortal view can manage, and the lingering intimidation can make that look like an attractive path (understand what you’re getting into before you get too far off track again). I have to actively push it back.

Thing is, I could’ve dealt with a syncretic Hermes, there would’ve been some perspective adjustments, but that’s fine. But oh noooo, no, there’s got to be another curve ball.

Said curve ball was thrown many months ago, when the syncretic thing was just dawning on me, a brief direct message that had jerked me out of meditation, wait a minute, what the hell does that mean? No further elaboration came, and it stuck firmly in my head ever since, hovering on the sidelines, trying to work itself out.

You may need to get used to calling me by a different name.

I thought it would be a epithet, an addition, a nod to the syncretic side. I’d certainly found quite a lot that would’ve been very relevant. I’d focused most on that first culture and the clear link there, the one that was new and thus unfamiliar. And there is something there, a legitimate connection, I had that confirmed, in an odd bit of UPG I’m not prepared to get into. But said UPG did not involve two figures alone, the number given was three: Hermes, Option One and….oh, I mean I think I know who the third is, probably, but I’m just not sure, sooooo, let’s not worry about it!

*sigh* Fuck it. I know what it is. I know what the name is.

It’s the thing I keep inching up to, and then dancing away from, back to the new and unfamiliar, the close but not quite. Because that other thing, it’s very familiar, from way back. I put myself in the Hellenic community once because Hermes, but aside from them who were the people I was meeting? What did a lot of them have in common? The worldview I quietly absorbed through a good deal of second hand exposure, culture specific terminology I still use? A direction I was nudged into once and has never really been that far away, however much distance I (unconsciously) try to create?

Why that distance, though? Why have I, as I now acknowledge I have, been finding excuses to push it away? There are a couple of potential reasons that spring to mind. One may just be an association with certain people and the headaches they cause me, something that once acknowledged should be easy to sweep aside. Other possibilities might have more to do with me, the implications, what this could mean for me, that might require some introspection, self work, acceptance – a little bit more of what I have been doing as of late.

It could also just be the whole can of worms this opens – the question of who am I now, and have been, dealing with.

From a logical, outside perspective, I can see this makes sense. If I am told to leave the whole Hellenic package behind, if I am prodded to pick up a world view from the other culture, then why keep only the name? Why not make the full move, right? But why request worship in a foreign culture, using someone else’s name, unless…

So what the fuck, my brain screams, what happened here? Will I be dealing with Hermes in a skin suit? Or am I, right now, dealing with you in a Hermes suit? Did something on this syncretic line shift from left to right, from one to the other? Did a change occur at some point and I never noticed? Or was it always this way, and I never realized?

There is something I’m reading right now, not a book I’d sought out but kind of tumbled into my lap through chance just as I was working my mind around this, a book that has answered a few questions, closed a few of those holes in the theory, the what about X, I know X is true and Y doesn’t look like X so what about that – well, here’s another way to look at it, here’s some fine details you may have missed, and maybe that actually isn’t a contradiction. According to what I’ve seen there, that bit about the Hermes suit, that’s very possible. Not just possible, it would almost be typical. Doesn’t mean it’s true, it may have been a change, it may not even be permanent. But it’s not a possibility I can continue to ignore.

Ugh.

I am resolving not to get lost in the literal endless stream of questions and doubt, to act as if and see what happens. It is in action, not contemplation, where all theories live or die. This idea won’t go away, so run with it, flip to the other side, call the other name, worship the other god; if it’s not true I will learn that quick enough, as I have with every other misstep in the last year.

First impressions – uh, yeah. Wow. We are still in the beginning, a reversal could still conceivably happen, something else could still occur, at this point who knows. Quite the start though, like after months of something watered down I got suddenly hit with the real stuff.

And I finished this post. So there’s also that.

Passing the Point of No Return

So, let me tell another story, another thing that happened to me this year that marked an important event that…well, not changed things per se, gave me some insight into how things have changed may be a better way to put it. It ties into things that have been on my mind lately as I think through my mindset pre-crisis, mid-crisis and post-crisis; rather than include it in an entry about other things, I’ll make it its own.

Just after moving here, the room mate got herself on speaking terms with one or two local pagans, and we were invited to attend holiday rituals with the semi local ADF grove – I say semi local because they’re not really anywhere we’d be able to get to on our own, but one of those contacts would be driving by where we were anyway and offered to give us a ride. Timing was a little difficult to work out, we weren’t able to accept until the summer solstice.

Once again, it will be necessary to set the scene, where my thought process was in that point in time, and that means getting at least a little bit into those new developments I’ve alluded to that I’m still working out, specifically one of the ways I first misinterpreted. I had thought it was possible that I was being passed to another god. I can see now where I made the mistake (or half mistake, since I never completely bought it, never for more than a minute before going back to being certain it had to be wrong, had to be something else), it’s pretty basic but hey, wasn’t at my best at the time. This is one reason why religious practice got neglected during that last year of self improvement in the former city: I peaked in, this is what I saw, the first thought I had and I said, I can not deal with this right now. After arriving here, I knew it couldn’t be put off any longer, but my not dealing with it then meant it was allowed to quietly fester in the back of my mind, putting down deep roots of doubt while I wasn’t paying attention, making it harder to just dismiss outright.

Before I agreed to go to the ritual, I asked who the ritual was being held in honor of. I always ask this, as there is one deity whose rites I am explicitly not allowed to attend (this is something I’ve written about before, more than once, though never here it seems; perhaps I shall have to do so, soon, while I’m still in story mode). Room mate made the inquiry and the guy giving us the lift told her it was for Helios, with Hekate as the gatekeeper.

(If you’re unfamiliar with ADF’s ritual structure, suffice it to say a gatekeeper is a minor, functionary role in the ritual – Helios is the guest of honor, the gatekeeper is just opening the way. I hope that makes some sense, because a more detailed explanation would take us far from the point)

So we arrived, in time for the pre-ritual briefing, where it was affirmed that the guest of honor was Helios and the gatekeeper was going to be Hermes. Yes, it was previously going to be Hekate, but the ritual organizer had some sudden last minute bit of divine inspiration, or whatever you want to call it, but she got the feeling it needed to be Hermes and she decided to run with it.

Must’ve been some very sudden divine inspiration, I’d only asked two, three days prior. I don’t know if any of you can relate, or even just imagine, the experience: where you can feel the god’s presence, very immediate, very sharp, and you know they’re looking at you, and you know they’re smiling, and you can feel that growing prickle of dread/excitement, where you know something is about to happen and it is possibly going to be wonderful, and possibly going to suck.

(And I should probably add, just to make absolutely clear, the people in this group did not know me, I’d never met or spoken to any of them previously, just the one guy that gave us the ride and even then it was only maybe twice, briefly. So it’s not like I had any direct mundane sort of influence over this, where someone might consciously think oh hey, we got someone dedicated to Hermes coming, why not have him as the gatekeeper instead? They wouldn’t have known.)

It did not suck, but it was…intense. More so than it had been for a while (not that even that level of intensity is ever an every day thing, for anyone, so I imagine). I didn’t stay the whole ritual, sometime between calling the gatekeeper (which was when it started) and maybe just after Helios (I can not remember, I wasn’t able to pay attention), it came to the point of either leave this space or fall over backwards, I decided to go. I found a quiet corner on the property, where I could sit down and have this moment; I didn’t rejoin the group either, I stayed in that spot, slowly recovering, until it was time to leave.

Message received, loud and clear: I was not being passed over, that was a misunderstanding on my part. But it was the way the message was delivered (well, aside from the dramatic show of inviting himself to a ritual he knew I’d be at, that is), the particular phrasing of it, that’s come back to mind these last weeks.

You made vows. Binding, life long vows. And you have not been released from them.

There has always been a debate about choice, when it comes to divine relationships, who is doing the choosing. Seems these debates are still happening, or so I see from one of the very few Pagan blogs I still pay attention to, though with a different head ache inducing argument (as opposed to the head ache inducing arguments I remember, or the head ache inducing arguments of the future). My own views on the matter have always been on the…traditional side, I suppose you could call it.

I think most people will go through their lives without any deep interaction with the gods, aside from a nod of acknowledgment during active worship and maybe a clear blessing or two in response to need. The next biggest group will be those who find a particular god seems to give them a little more attention than normal (perhaps due to profession, a smith god for a smith as an example, but it could be any number of things), an exchange develops, more worship from the person and more blessing from the god, and that’s having a patron. I can’t say how common it is, not everyone will find one that’s for certain, but I don’t think it’s very rare either. And then you have the people that the gods intrude more on their lives, make more demands, more sacrifices, not of anything you’d buy or make (or not just that) but of yourself; they offer more, too: time, attention, energy, power, inspiration, letting you into their lives (or, well, they’ll leave the door unlocked, you have to actually get there yourself). These would be the spiritual specialists, with any of a variety of titles, purpose and work to do.

(Yes, I know this may not be the best, most detailed explanation, but I’d like to think it at least gets the point across, for the purposes of the present discussion)

I think even that last category, the relationship can begin from the person’s prompting. They do the work of reaching out, being open and available, make themselves look like an attractive prospect to Someone; maybe it begins as a less intense patronage but, as time goes on, the person is interested in more and the deity can see they’re sincere, they can both meet the demands and withstand the burdens, and it just grows naturally like that. I have no problem believing that. But I also have no problem believing that sometimes the gods choose certain people, sometimes before the person has even started with prayer and offerings, there is something about them that the god will make the first move. Sometimes, the gods may give that person no real choice in the matter. It’s not an even power dynamic here and it never will be; a human being can not compel a deity to give them the time of day if they don’t want to, a deity can make a person’s life very difficult if they don’t do as required.

This kind of thing is very well attested to, in historical accounts, in traditional cultures, you don’t even need to look very deep to find it. There’s no reason to think it would all of a sudden stop just because some people in modern times find the idea uncomfortable. If you do find it uncomfortable, well, there’s good news. You probably have nothing to worry about. No one, anywhere, at any time, has ever suggested this is a common occurrence; it’s very rare, we’re talking a statistical handful of people, and the odds of you being one of them are not very high.

(I should maybe also note that, just because I believe things of this nature can happen, does not mean I believe every individual account thereof. Maybe especially now.)

But back to me. It had been amusing, once, to wonder which of us did the choosing. It was a long time ago now, memory is generally less clear and accurate than you often think that it is; I have told the story many times over the years, but even that doesn’t always keep mistakes and embellishments from cropping in. I remember being drawn to Paganism out of the blue, I remember feeling like I was searching for something, someone, doing my research, going through names until I came upon his and then he was just right there. I remember reading Greek mythology as a kid, and he wasn’t one of the ones I was drawn to (that would be Apollo and Artemis, which goes to show what I knew then) so it never made sense, in hindsight, why he was the first Greek god I called to. There were a few other things that, in hindsight, could be early signs of his presence, of his pulling strings before I knew it. If he did choose me, and set things up to make certain I would find my way to him, it was subtly done, which would not be out of character. I may never know for sure, and it probably doesn’t matter much.

Now, even with the intriguing idea that this may have been arranged before Paganism was on my radar, doesn’t mean I couldn’t have chosen to shrug off his invitation and continue playing video games. I don’t think his choice necessarily implies my lack thereof, and that’s how I always thought it worked for me. I never felt coerced, more…charmed, I suppose, though I never thought of it that way, before. Everything seemed to move and grow along a natural trajectory: he came and I welcomed him, I called and he answered, he asked and I gave, I took a leap and he kept his word. I suppose, in retrospect, some of it may have moved at a faster pace than usual, faster than should be, maybe, from an outside perspective, but it never felt that way in the moment. It felt like something I was building as much as him, something I wanted as much as him, every crazy step of the way.

But then it occurs to me, how would you know? How would you know if you had a choice? If the god doesn’t approach you that way, doesn’t say it at the outset: you belong to me now, so come along, resistance is futile; if he just asks, holds out a hand and asks, would you know? If you always said yes, or at least yes to the right requests, how could you know? Don’t you have to test to really understand your limits? Say no, try to walk away, try to go back, and see what happens. Can you slip back into your old life (whatever life you had), or does everything instantly go to shit?

And another thing, just because you may have started out with a choice, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. Circumstances can change, in innumerable ways. You can lose that choice, you can give it away, by, like…oh I don’t know. By making vows; by making binding, lifelong vows. Something like that, could be a bit of a game changer.

It may not matter anymore, beyond the occasional intriguing late night thought experiment, what the situation really was way back when he first showed up, when I first established worship, or even when he made his first big request and asked me to just trust him. It does matter what the situation currently is, going forward.

I may very well have had the opportunity, the choice, to walk away once. I never took it; instead I pushed forward, pushed and pushed, and passed the point of no return. I do not have that option anymore.

Not that I’m complaining, far from it; in fact, in some ways, I consider it a good thing.