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.

On Limitations

The sparrows…have accepted even harsher limitations to achieve even more spectacular results. Like most birds, they have embraced many limits and traded in a galaxy of other possibilities in exchange for the supreme achievement of flight. Every cell in their bodies is shaped by the demands of life in the air…they are masters of a single trade, and its requirements are strict enough that every other option has dropped away.

-John Micheal Greer’s Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Chapter Four: The Law of Limits (44-45)

You know, this post has been sitting for a while now, all written up but I was unsatisfied with it for some reason. Attempts at editing didn’t help, something about it just felt wrong, there was something I wanted to say about limits and taboos but it wasn’t coming together.

One part of my daily routine (and I feel I can talk about that more now that it has firmly established itself) is divination, a single tarot card. I had never seen the point of doing that on a daily basis, after all most people’s lives don’t change that drastically from day to day, mine perhaps less than most, so wouldn’t it just be the same thing over and over again? But hey, that’s what the experts I read say should be part of your basic foundation, along with some daily ritual and meditation (or, for me, grounding, centering and shielding plus devotional practice, offerings and time spent with the gods) so okay, I’ll give it a go. And I’ve found that yes, indeed things don’t change that much from day to day, but there is something oddly gratifying in seeing those consistent patterns developing (oh, look, it’s working!).

Then there are the times when you pull the same damn card every day for an entire week like it’s the only one in the deck (no, it’s not a bad shuffle, I know how to shuffle cards, and either way I never pick from the top of the deck). Some message here, but what the hell is it? You slowly work it out, the general idea first then the specific it’s applying to; you make a move in the right direction, stumble, and the card the next day tells you it’s not good enough; fuck off completely the following day and you get that first card again, stuck to an even uglier one that all but screams I’m getting sick of your shit.

I may need to be told more than once, but I’m not that thick. And so here I am, knowing what I need to say and this post still has the same title and the same quote, but the rest of it is very different. This is both to really cement it to myself and make something of a public vow that I will be making those needed cuts to my life to avoid mental miasma, so I can be better in tune with the gods.

There has been a lot of that going on lately, paring down, focusing. Much of it has not had to come down from on high, they’re decisions I’ve made for myself because I realized after a time it was the right thing for me to do. I’ve been living a fairly monkish existence for a little while now, been in this city almost a year and I don’t know anyone here apart from nearby relatives, I’ve made no effort to change that nor wanted to. I’ve not been a total hermit as I once was, I’ve engaged plenty with the city itself, with the nearby ocean, but not with other people, and that mostly goes for online as well. I won’t say definitely never, you never say that where Hermes might hear it, but unless and until something falls out of the sky and into my lap, this is how it is and where I need to be.

I haven’t been very good at that, being where I need to be; I spent a long time trying to live against my nature, thinking it was just what I had to do. When Hermes had me uprooted from my family’s home and out into the world, I don’t think I handled that transition well. All of a sudden (and it was sudden, it took a month) I was in a completely different place and I don’t just mean a city I’d never been to, and there seemed to be a lot more opportunities available to me that had never been on my radar before. Well, other people live like this, I told myself, very easily too, it’s just the way it goes. I tried to adapt as I had done every time my life changed on me (changes that were usually temporary and highly volatile), and it worked for a while but it wasn’t going to work indefinitely, not for me and not for the people I was mingling with; I do not fit in, very obviously, and even when that fact is consciously acknowledged it can still create long term strain within the group, let alone when everyone’s ignoring it (me because I’m still finding my footing too late in life, them because…well, because maybe you’re not as all welcoming and open minded as you like to think you are, but fuck honesty, you’re just going to keep on telling yourself otherwise while your frustration shows up in other ways). I’d never gotten anywhere that close to a normal life before (and it wasn’t even that close, with all the spirit workers and druids and the large number of interestingly, and sometimes frighteningly crazy people that passed in and out of my home), I found I couldn’t do it, and those opportunities started naturally going away.

I also finally got an idea of what my life looked like from the outside. You don’t always know that, if you’re far off the beaten track, far out of the world and only ever meeting people in the same fucked up boat as you, you might have an idea but you don’t really know until you come across a fleet of very different ships. Now I knew, and with that knowledge in mind I could watch everything contracting back into its proper shape, those opportunities I’d thought I’d seen at first proving to be mirages after all; life turned out to be a long corridor with every door sealed shut save one, the door Hermes was standing in front of. And that brought out anger and resentment, which was allowed to take over during the crisis time when my mind snapped and I had little else. Because gods damn it that wasn’t fair (and no, it’s not, but life isn’t fair and it never pretended to be). Anger and resentment driving me to waste my time banging against those sealed doors, like I could somehow force them to open through sheer will power. I won’t say it was all failure though it mostly was, but whatever wins I managed to tear free were always so small, so insignificant compared to the immense amount of effort I put into achieving them, and the further immense effort required to hold on to them, it was never worth it.

But of course it was never about wanting those doors opened, not about the things I didn’t have or the opportunities I was not given. No, it was about not having been given the chance to decide, about feeling herded down that single corridor; even that feeling, and the urge to fight against it that it brought, was more about proving something, to the world or myself I’m not sure. The saner part of me knew this couldn’t keep going, something had to be done, the hardest thing for a stubborn asshole like me to do when I’ve got my fists up and my heels dug in: total and complete acceptance.

Assume that this is it, I’d said to myself, over and over, until it sunk into my brain, this is the shape of your life, the patterns have all been set, no radical change is coming, you will never be given any more cards to play than what you have right now. Find a way to live with that. Keep to your box. Play the hand you were dealt.

If that hand contains only one playable card, the God card is nothing to sneeze at, and I wouldn’t trade it away, not for the Career, Family, Quiet House in the Suburbs and Private Yacht card master set. I never lost sight of that, it was never a question that, when the time came to make those hard choices, I’d still be on this path. Even when doubts were growing that I could ever go as far as other people were with it. I’d see the people I knew online, what they were talking about (the ones I believed, and still do), and I’d think to myself, and if you laugh at this believe me I’m laughing at myself now – if I had the sort of signal clarity that was more reliable, more consistent, more immediate, more like what they’re talking about, it would be so much easier to sacrifice everything for it.

Yes, I know, you have to put the work into that, moron. But it’s not that, that’s the secondary lesson in this fable. I never realized, back then, how much of my limited supply of energy was going into just getting through my day to day life and all the interactions that required: a multitude of room mates, both an online and in person large community I was trying to be an active part of, so many people every damn day with barely a break in between. And I’m sure it doesn’t sound like all that much to the more socially oriented types (which is the vast majority of humanity, I am an anomaly and I do know that), but it was well past too much for me. That I had the signal clarity I did, back then on the fraction of mental power I had left to spare, is amazing; the improvements that have come in just a short time of regular every day multiple times a day practice with most of my attention and energy has been even more incredible. I could, in all likelihood, progress far in this path, if I take all that will power that I once wasted living out of place, or trying to tear down impassible barriers, and put it to real use instead.

There are many reasons why the gods might request other aspects of your life be sacrificed or restricted, but one very simple, easy to understand one is just a matter of time and energy. We all have limited supplies of it, the further you spread it out the less is going into each individual thing; for a lot of things that might be fine, but some things require more energy if you want to do them even marginally well. If you want to be, say, a top surgeon or an Olympic athlete, we understand such people are not going to have much of a social life because everything is going into learning and perfecting their craft; that’s a reason not a lot of people pursue those careers (not the only, by far, but one of them), they’re not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and no one blames them for it. You have to really want it, really want to succeed, to be willing to risk or give up so much else; in my own observation over the years, that sort of dedicated passion is in very short supply.

Easy to understand, I say, but the fact has always been (and probably still is) that a lot of Pagans have a hard time accepting that. They want to believe religion is the single grand exception, where all paths are all equally easily accessible to all people. But I’m not here to shake my head at the Pagan community, just acknowledging the attitude and saying I don’t agree. Like the above quote says, which I left up because I really liked it, hard limits are a part of the way things work, part of natural law and you all like nature, right? (that it was birds was interesting, I do have a minor spiritual fascination with them, the name Hermes gave me is a bird name, so them being the example of hard limits for great power, adds another dimension to it)

Silence, another important factor, you need silent time in order to give the gods an opportunity to get through. I have a slight advantage there, I’m far less internet dependent than it seems so many people are: I never got into social media, my cell phone is not online, and I can wait in line, wait for a bus, take a short ride while absorbed in my own thoughts without needing (or wanting) some distraction. Television though. Oh man, I used to have it on all the time when I was at home, even if I was barely watching it, even if it was something I’d seen a million times already and didn’t give a shit about. For a time there, I didn’t think I could function without some background noise.

Again, I didn’t need anything to come down from on high, I made that choice myself. Odd maybe, but it happened when we cut cable and started streaming instead. Before, I had a limited number of channels (let’s say thirty that were actually worth watching) and within those limits I could always choose something that would be tolerable; suddenly the options weren’t limited, we have everything, so now, what do you want to watch? And you know what, most of the time I could not be assed to hunt through unlimited options to find something to just brainlessly stare at; days would go by while the TV sat unused and I found I didn’t miss it as much as I once thought I would. Which isn’t to say I don’t watch television at all anymore, it means I watch it more deliberately; I watch shows because I want to see them, not because they happen to be on.

I had said, previously, that I once expected Hermes would take far more control over how I live my life as things got more intense, but then it didn’t happen and it was a cause of some distress. It may be just as well, I don’t think I was ready to accept it, that I may have needed the experience to really understand why things have to be the way they are, the point and purpose of taboos and limitations. And it may be that it’s always better I come to the right conclusions on my own, without needing to be told, that I learn my limits and make the conscious choice, over and over, to stay the path, and shed anything that’s getting in my way.

But it is true, the closer you get to the gods, the more they intrude on your life; limitations and taboos are part and parcel of these paths and it was very premature to declare that it wasn’t coming. Even in a short amount of time of regular every day several times a day practice, it’s started to come. Points get raised as they’re needed, things branch out, the uncomplicated basics I started out with grow and little rules start to appear.

(There are also some grey areas, where I’m not sure if I should be calling it a taboo. Like my diet, that I was pointed toward by the gods in a rare moment of clarity back during the bad years. It’s seemingly common for food taboos to come up, and I’ve always credited the gods with the adoption of that diet, but my diet needed to be changed for other health related reasons, and the times being what they were, I was never sure if it was just this will help you lose weight or if there was more to it than that. As a side note, I’ve been making my way through Phillippe Borgeaud’s The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece for other reasons, and there are ideas in there about food and the ancient mindset that could shed an interesting light on my chosen diet and what it might imply, but that’s a rumination for another time)

And now here we are, with the first hard line in the sand, where he needs to step in and taboo me away from something that I was not self selecting out of. I’m not going to say exactly what, not because it’s a big secret but because of the potential for public bullshit if I do (I am trying to get away from this crap, not attract more of it to me). There are things in the world I’ve paid more attention to than I need to, that I think it served a purpose once, helped me understand a few things, solidify my beliefs, learn that where I do and do not find common ground can and has shifted. It’s long since lost it’s purpose, I know that but I haven’t walked away from it.

He wasn’t kidding about the mental miasma I’ve been accruing. I can feel it, now that it’s been pointed out. The first day after that out of patience tarot reading, I paid more attention to my thought patterns throughout the day, I can see how it’s a distraction, I can see how it affects my mood, it’s won more momentum than I am comfortable with.

It’ll be a big change, that will further limit where I can go online (not just the obvious places, like there is a movie review site I used to visit that I realize now I won’t be able to go to anymore – just as well, really, I’d grown disgusted with that site some time ago and just haven’t yet made the effort to find a viable alternative so I can still keep an eye on foreign films and non Hollywood blockbuster releases). Some time this week I’ll set things up and change things around on my computer so as to avoid temptation, look for better hobbies and better ways to spend my time. Things that feed into my spirituality and not detract from it. I scoffed at that idea once and I was wrong, I was dead wrong; the more I keep him in the center of my mind, the better everything comes together.

You can learn a lot about the path a person is on by seeing what is tabooed to them; I read that very recently. So what does this say about me and my path? Less engagement, moving further away from civilization, further out into fringe. It’s not a new message; I think back to all the times, when I was trying to be involved in communities online and in person, when there was drama or people were having difficulties and wanted some help (not from me in particular, just in general), he’d crawl to the front of my mind: eyes on your own paper; let someone else take care of that; that’s not your problem, don’t get involved. Sometimes it seems like everything in my life, from the moment I was born, was preparing me for this, shaping me into the sort of person who could survive and thrive where few others would go. To what end I’m not sure, if there is some greater purpose living in a sort of exile, if there is something in particular (or some private service I can render) I’ll find along this road and no other, or if it’s just how it is. At this point, either way is fine with me.

Hail Hermes, as my circle grows a little smaller and my mind a little clearer. When the dust settles once again I doubt I’ll miss this much either, and be better off for its loss.

power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be (p. 47).

 

Learning the Value of Practice and Tradition

I was looking through old blog entries of mine today – not here, one of those other blogs that I never erased but set to private long ago, when I realized it existed mostly as a means to complain about people, that that wasn’t terribly mature. I hadn’t really touched it in three, four years, all but forgotten it existed, but I found some old emails from it and so decided, out of shear morbid curiosity, to go check it out.

Dear fucking gods, was that painful! I come off like such a whiny bitch – which I sincerely hope is unusual for me. The most maddening part though is how close I was to getting it, I seemed to have most of the understanding I currently do, but the focus of it was all wrong. I was still so wrapped up in blaming others for my own discomfort, making excuses for why I don’t need to change, it’s everyone else who is wrong, they need to accommodate me. And it’s all so transparent, I wonder how I didn’t see it even as I was typing it, how there was not some little voice yelling in the back of my head:

Ten paragraphs. Ten fucking paragraphs all crying because someone made you feel inadequate. Yes, how very dare they, how very dare anyone expect anything of you. Ten paragraphs all on everything you don’t need to do: formal ritual, regular practice, any sort of responsibility at all. Are you trying to convince your audience, or yourself? Are you sure they maybe don’t have a point, that maybe you could stand to develop a little discipline? And I don’t mean doing a hundred impossible things while standing on your head – if you took a real deep breath and thought back good and hard, you’d realize no one ever said that to you. This is all coming from inside your head, this is all you reacting to what other people are doing for themselves. You would not be reacting so poorly to what other people are doing if what you were doing was working so damn well for you. You know you’re wrong here, that discomfort is your brain telling you you’re wrong.

And while we’re at it, about ninety-five percent of what you’re writing here is oh woe is me, I’m so dreadfully broken, my life is bleak and painful. I imagine the only reason you didn’t get a flood of messages trying to talk you off the ledge you must surely be on is because you’d gone and surrounded yourself with people who all sounded just as bad. There is acknowledgement and there is obsession. Your framing your life in this context is a good way to ensure that it ends up owning you. Maybe if you stopped obsessing over it for even five minutes, just maybe you’d figure out how to get out of your own way.

So close, but just not close enough.

There was something else I picked up on from my old writing, something that I remember being the commonly agreed upon thought in the post spirit worker circle, something I’d forgotten about until confronted with it again, something that bothered me a lot as soon as I noticed it. That I would begin talking about religious devotion, devotion to the gods, but it would very quickly turn into a conversation all about me: what I want, what I need, what I expect, my desires and why I’m allowed to have them right alongside everything I can’t do (often because it gets in the way of some other desire) and why that’s just a-okay because me me me. Almost like I was the only one in the alleged relationship, the only one who mattered…

But I’m not prepared to get into that point now, I did just notice it, for the first time, and I need a chance to really think it through. But I wanted to mention it, the way it jumped right out at me, the way it bothered me, as a sign of how poorly I was treating that connection, that I’d lost sight of so much of what once mattered to me and I was so oblivious to it.

It was formal practice I was going to talk about, in part. That thing I once swore up and down I didn’t really need because…uh, because I had a hard time making time for it, because I’m undisciplined and because I have a sleep disorder that makes scheduling difficult so…impossible to make new habits, right? Well, no, because I’ve done it in years since. It’s hard, I need a degree of flexibility to go along with my variable schedule and it can require some experimentation to get just the right mix; I need to not beat myself up too much if I miss the target but I can’t go too easy on myself either, I need to want it and know how to make myself want to succeed.

It’s not something that came about only because of the great spiritual crisis, it was a long standing problem that was partially mitigated because I was neck deep in a community for a while there, online and in person. It was enough to keep it in mind in the beginning there, it prompted just enough action on my part, but of course when that crutch went away I had a serious problem on my hands that I was unprepared for. That foundation needed to come from me. That was especially true when I got pulled into a deeper level, I needed to step up my game and that should’ve been obvious, yet I missed the memo.

I was trying to – I don’t know what I was trying to do, drift aimlessly around? The practice I’d developed, what little of it there was, was empty and meaningless, dissolved into nothing very quickly. Whatever you feel like doing was the watch word at the time, whatever works for you; though I talked like a self involved person then, that’s not a motivating factor for me, general good feelings, I need something else. Not only did I give myself no real motive, I expected me to build everything from the ground up. None of it was grounded in anything, no tradition, no nothing; I didn’t know anything about ritual, how it worked, in order to craft my own.

Again, in retrospect, not very wise on my part. I don’t think I fully understood the value of the thing I was so carelessly throwing away. Though to be fair to me, I don’t think anyone had really explained ritual in real, meticulous detail: what makes one good, what makes one work, every individual part and the way it all comes together. It’s more than just a thing that you do on certain days of the year, in between the laundry and telling your fellow coreligionists about all the laundry you’re stuck doing over potluck.

I’d left a tradition behind, reconstructionism, as I should have because it wasn’t working for me. I think the success of those religious movements depends on your ability to connect to the ancient culture as a whole, its mindset, and that just never happened for me. Not to say I didn’t try, try to let things work out the way I thought they would, and should.

The Greek gods, it’s said, come to people as the family unit that they are, if you are drawn to one that one will push you to meet the rest of them and you’ll have several of them in your life, if not the whole pantheon. That was a common enough experience, at least back then. It never worked that way for me. Again, I did try, there were other gods there I’d been interested in a connection with; aside from Dionysos who has always been around off and on, the ones that didn’t outright tell me to get lost were fairly indifferent. Honestly, after a while there, so was I.

What developed around me instead, much to my initial confusion, was a small collection of concepts and deities, etc. connected not by time or place, but by some association with Hermes. Sometimes an actual historical one that I didn’t know about until I had cause to look into it (always interesting when that happens), other times it’s something (or someone) with a lot of parallels to him. He is the center, not a particular time, place or culture; it all revolves around him.

Hermes is a liminal figure, there’s a side to him that fits well in the cultural center, but there are other sides that take him out to the fringe, and beyond. That latter, that’s always been the one I see, the one I know best. The lack of concern for boundaries he has shown with me over and over again, it makes a certain kind of sense.

My beginning attempts to accept that reality lead me to leave Hellenic Reconstructionism. It also lead me to think I would not be able to find another spiritual home (even a temporary one), but that, I now believe, was a mistake. While I may one day have to venture out entirely on my own, I wasn’t ready for that then, or now. I collected quite a bit of historical knowledge; practical spiritual technique, ritual practice and the like was far more lacking. As undisciplined as I am, I need some structure; not militant, not so restrictive I couldn’t keep up, but enough to tell me where to go, keep me on point. I should’ve been looking for somewhere else to go, to continue my education.

I may have that now, or at least I’m on the right path to it, though I’m not yet ready to say much more than that. There have been a few odd changes over the past year that it’s taken me a while to wrap my head around; odd enough that I’ve made mistakes already in interpreting them, understandable mistakes in hindsight. I don’t want to keep doing that, I don’t want to say anything else until I’m a hundred percent. It’s been an interesting road regardless, even if I don’t jump on this particular bandwagon, I’ve still gotten a lot out of just the research.

It’s been good having a research project again.