Identity and Group Mind

Oh wow, it’s been more than a year now since my last post. And in light of that, I probably don’t need to say that the idea brewing in my head at the time didn’t exactly work out. For a while it did, about four months there things felt solid, stable again – then the cracks started to appear and the whole thing shattered. The rest of the year was spent feeling as though I were being jerked around from one thing to the next, looking for the end to this problem and finding that I’m still, always, missing the mark. I was exhausted by the end of it, despondent; wanted to put my fist through something, bang my head against something, throw everything out the window, throw myself out the window, give up and move into the cave in the woods and be done with it all.

Still here though, having caught whatever number wind I’m on now, still trying to work my way to the bottom of this. This whatever wind it is has brought with it a new angle, courtesy of some online discussions I’ve been privy to. Permit me, if you will, a rambling trip through this thought process.

For the last couple years I’ve been following John Micheal Greer’s blog (and the Dreamwidth one, too). I’m not a commenter there, five years ago I would’ve gone for it, tried for some sense of community, but I’m still too burned out, too wary, not quite willing to take that risk right now. So I just read, absorb, learn. And it has been quite the education, I’ve had my perspective challenged, changed, broadened on any number of issues. He’s a traditional occultist, something that the Pagan traditions I came from tended to treat like it was cooties (and still do, as I see). To be fair, exposure to watered down pop culture Wicca doesn’t help matters, but Western Esotericism is more than just Wicca (much less watered down pop culture Wicca). I’m finding it so far, the philosophy, the world view, to be interesting and, in a lot of ways, to make more sense than much of what I’ve come across before.

Here’s where I saw passing reference to egregores. Nothing too in depth, but enough to hook my mind, to be sitting there on the mental back burner when an unpleasant revelation hit me and sent me after a recommended book on the subject.

I’ve been able to visit my family in recent times, after having not seen anyone in person for seven years. On the one hand it has been nice seeing people again, the nephew who was a toddler when I left or the niece I never met at all, but on the other hand…it’s odd. That amount of time and things are both familiar but also kind of new to you, you’re distant enough that you experience things as an outsider might. I look around and think nothing has changed; then, my god, nothing has changed. This exact same oppressive whirlwind of negativity is what I grew up in. Fucking hell, how did I ever breathe? I don’t know, I find it kind of hard to breathe in now, if I don’t go with at least some small measure of protection I can find it hard to shake off later; it sticks to you, a miasma that blackens the mood and shortens the temper.

I think there is an egregore at work there, attached to the family. If that is the right word for it. Some powerful behavior patterns, a drama enacting itself over and over again. I had a vital role in that drama, growing up, though I didn’t see it that way at the time; I thought of it instead as just who I was, not a part I was unwittingly cast in (though having played in it for so long, it is to a degree who I am now, though not as strongly as it once was). I was the scapegoat, the antagonist, the negative comparison. And after I abruptly escaped that prison, not right away but over the course of time, it seems one of my siblings was recruited to fill the role that I left, in order for the drama to go on.

To an extent, I knew this; I still talked to people, got two sides of the same story, suspecting but never too sure where the bullshit is. Seeing it was a completely different thing, And there were always things that I wondered about, behaviors admitted to by both parties, things that mirrored my own – though my behaviors stemmed naturally from a childhood trauma, not collective family trauma something that was mine alone. It never really made sense to me for said sibling to be acting this way. But then a very casual conversation with a different family member pointed out, to my amazement, the similarities did not stop there. Even down to very fine details I missed, or didn’t want to see, it was beyond eerie. This person who at one point was on a very different path than me (had a different role in the drama) has since become, in a way, a version of who I could’ve been, had the gods not intervened.

That really threw me for a loop; still does. There was a moment of is this my fault, did I cause this somehow? But no, and I do know that; I may, possibly, with my departure created a vacuum that needed to be filled, but I am not the source of this drama and I’m not to be faulted for saving my own skin. My troubled mind lingered more on questions of why me? Why was I spared? Because I was, when Hermes showed up on my doorstep and offered me an out; I wouldn’t have gotten out of there on my own without the synchronicity string he arranged on my behalf, and I know that (as a side note, I strongly suspect now the name change I was given on my way out the door was not (only) a devotional move, but a way to further sever me from this group mind). So why me? And there is probably an answer to that question, though I may never learn it, not in this lifetime. Mostly it’s just troubling, because I see this whole situation coming to a bad end; I hope not, I hope some measure of course correction can be set in before things go speeding past the point of no return, but I don’t know. There’s not much I can do about it either way.

Not that that was my only exposure to the power of group minds, I had ringside seats to a first class spectacle with the last group (cult) I was involved in before I pulled all the way back. It’s something I try not to focus on much because I don’t want to be another of those people blaming everyone else for my problems; it’s possible though I also downplay the influence it had. I almost wish I’d had the presence of mind to take better notes when it was all happening, it could have been a fascinating thing to look back on: the gradual way one person’s delusional fantasy life came to dominate so many people (okay, it was a handful of people, but still, more than it should’ve), the way this one person lost the ability (assuming they ever had it in the first place) to tell the difference between fantasy and reality and swept others off with them. Including myself, to a degree. I never got as deep into this, shall we call it live action religious role play, as others did, I was more peripheral to it, but it did affect me. Years of inane jumbled horseshit I mistook for UPG, that’s where it had its roots; I didn’t act much on those thoughts but they were there, had to be picked off like leeches at a later date. It’s easy to see the influence now, but I didn’t get it then, it slid right under my radar.

But this is an extreme example, and it’s always easier to see the extremes. This little cult of personality though splintered off from a bigger group that itself splintered off from various parts of the broader Pagan and Reconstructionist movements, sealing itself in a little online echo chamber. Group minds form wherever there are groups, so what about this one? What was the legacy it left me? What beliefs, routines, expectations, still embedded in me, have roots there? And more importantly, how many of them are actually legitimate and how many are leeches in need of being picked off?

I’ve journaled about this a bit, trying to trace these beliefs, routines and expectations, trying to see the overall effect, then and now. The conclusion I come to, every time I think about it, whatever it may sound like, is most (not all, but many) of those people from back then didn’t know what they were talking about – they thought they did, but they didn’t. I think a lot of people were in it for reasons other than what they said, less about the gods maybe and more about their own image (I’ll throw one example out, that bullshit that circulated for a time within this group that putting serious work into spirituality, into mysticism and devotional relationships, was not necessary, that expecting work was elitism – that’s about protecting people’s fragile egos, not about the way things really work). And I think some, beyond the few I know about for certain because I witnessed it up close, lost the ability to tell the difference between wishful thinking (or delusion) and actual divine messages (and with a group mind that doesn’t encourage good discernment, apt to believe everything from the in crowd or otherwise with little to no question, expect that shit to spread – and yes, including myself here).

A lot of this is just a feeling, I admit, a guess, something I notice when I compare the source material I’m reading now, the few people I’ve observed enough that I do think they know what they’re talking about (and who have a reputation as such extending well beyond just me), with the stuff I remember from then – there’s a difference in quality I can see, even if I can’t articulate it. The quality of a group mind can be judged by the results it produces, and what do I see there? A lot of people who have crashed and burned; people who have vanished, or quite visibly moved on to other things; devotional relationships and responsibilities with fancy titles turning to smoke around them, slipping right through their fingers. The people still around, often are the ones that backed off early, or weren’t that involved. I don’t know the individual reasons behind each and every instance, I don’t pretend that I do, but it does create an overall impression, and sometimes that’s all you have to judge – this is a group mind that creates faith not strong enough to last the test of time, perhaps not even strong enough to take one of those good hard blows life is bound to throw your way. And unless I want to end up in the same position, I might want to rethink everything I learned at its feet.

And how did any of this happen? How did I get so entangled in so much bad shit? That ties into thoughts sparked from the current discussion on Ecosophia, that of identity – a term I tend to think is way overblown nowadays, but the conversation there has been interesting. What can happen when your sense of identity is weak, when you lose it altogether, what might you fall prey to in a desperate attempt to know who and what you are.

NeoPaganism was the framework I started out with, and it was never a perfect fit; there was always a lot to it that didn’t speak to me, a hell of a lot of people I felt like I had nothing in common with, but it was close enough. I can recognize a lot of that now as the pop culture aspect, the alternate lifestyle and political baggage that made it a hip and trendy place to be among certain circles (a phenomenon rapidly switching into reverse I think). I met a lot of those types when I was involved one of the larger NeoPagan organizations: I’m here because I’m kind of a hippy, I like veganism and polyamory and environmental activism, and that’s what we’re all about here, right (yes, I have heard this). Oh, and this ritual stuff is cool too, I guess. And maybe it was, maybe they were interested, but you also got the sense if the group abandoned the ritual element, became say, a vegan social club or an environmental activism movement, they’d still come because it would still be giving them what they’re after. I would not; I was only interested in polytheistic worship and mysticism. Religion in other words, and in a group that often so loudly resists being labeled as one.

Last big group public ritual I ever went to, not one where I really knew anyone, but it was local so what the hell. And I see a crowd of people just chatting, not about anything important, just mundane stuff: kids, work, laundry, home repairs. And this conversation is paused long enough to spit out a ritual (and yes, it was kind of like that, a clapping of hands and okay let’s move into the clearing and get this on with), and as soon it was over the same conversation just picked right back up again, like nothing had happened. This ritual, this sacrifice, this calling of the gods and meeting with something holy, wasn’t worth talking about, it was a blip at best. Never went back, never wanted to. The one right before that, such as it was, seemed to spend most of its time talking about some other local guy they hated, who was a mega asshole yes indeed, but still, is that all you’re bringing to the table? Are we only here because you want to show that guy up (the answer in the end was yes and it was a wasted effort)? That second was a group where, at least on paper I should’ve had more commonality, people who claimed devotional relationships and whatnot, but when it came right down to it their focus was clearly on personal drama, religion was an afterthought.

Some differences I expect, of course; not everyone is interested in mysticism, most people won’t be walking down that path, that would happen whatever tradition I was in, whatever god I was following. The gap here though, often times felt too great that it wasn’t worth putting up with the drama; as I moved away from the very beginner simple prayer and devotion lay person stage, it felt irrelevant. So I backed away from both it and Reconstructionism (where I felt some more commonality but also many of its own problems). I don’t regret that decision at all, I think I reached my natural limits with both of them, these two frameworks I built off of that were neither of them right but close enough. Only…well, now what?

Labels, never any shortage of labels around, fancy titles people could claim for themselves. And people talking themselves up like they were masters of the universe (to be fair, many I think were just happy to have somewhere to talk about this shit without people looking at them like they had three heads, and went a little overboard; this same sense of freedom at last probably also contributed to the erosion of skepticism). Beyond that it was all really nebulous.

To be fair again, I get that some things can’t be expressed in words. I also get that, past a certain point, mystical paths are very individualistic, it’s you and your gods and no one else can point the way for you. But that’s after a certain point, surely there is a whole highway of preliminary stops along the way before sailing forth into unmapped territory? Certain basic practices applicable to all, to get you to the point where you’re open enough for any sort of continuous mystical work? Preliminaries that were largely not discussed but vaguely assumed? Things I know I missed out on in my earlier Pagan career, and I suspect I was far from alone in that boat; many of the people around then likewise came from other non magical Pagan traditions because a patron relationship developed into something more – the beginning of a call, not a teleportation to its end (these may be the people who convinced themselves, over time, they didn’t need that work at all).

And that relationship, too, up and changed on me; I didn’t think it would then, but it did. And what was it now? I had a word for it, a label borrowed from community use, but what did it mean? For me? For him? What am I supposed to do with it, how am I supposed to act? I didn’t know; fuck, I still don’t know.

Is that part of what threw me so far off course? That I found myself lost in the wilderness without a compass, just the added pressure that more responsibility has been bestowed upon you and results are expected? That I didn’t know how to relate to the gods any longer? That I had no role models to follow, and the people who welcomed me into their alliance gave me nothing but bad advice, not that I had the knowledge to tell that at the time (well, some of it, others I really should’ve known better)?

To be fair for a final time, I also know these are new traditions that don’t have a long history in place. Were I a Christian mystic I’d know where to go and what do to; alas, not what happened. Here, people are still, mostly, figuring things out as they go, and they’re bound to make mistakes – sometimes awful ones. And some people are better suited for that than others. Me, I loathe rigid tradition, but at the same time still have the programming in my head that tells me I’m a screw up, and while that doesn’t have to matter a lot of the time, when it’s something important to me, when I don’t want to let someone down, that’s a different thing. Some firm guidelines to get started, a better definition of terms, clearer expectations and some amount of reasonable skepticism. And help; I don’t know if there was no help to be had, no one I could’ve turned to for this basic groundwork, or if it was just in my head, but I never felt like I could ask, could admit that I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Considering that I was not the only person burned by this group when in its largest stage before the various splintering occurred, I’d have to say it probably was not just in my head.

I’ve never thought about it like this before, but it does make a kind of sense. And stripping away all the bad group mind influences (even the really sneaky ones), while necessary, would do nothing to address the central problem that allowed them to grow in the first place, that I don’t really know what I am anymore. Fuck, maybe that’s the reason I keep looking for some bigger change, trying out radically new ideas before discarding them, unable to focus on anything – if I had to start all over again, maybe things would start to make sense again, like they did before.

Well, if that is it (or part of it), I do think the occult literature I’ve been reading, the blog I’ve been shadowing and the odd traditions it’s had me seeking out, put me in a better place to manage it. I have some of those basic preliminaries in simple to follow steps and I’ve been working on it (sporadically, what with all the jerking back and forth last year – long enough to see some results, to have perhaps cracked a door open that may not be closed again, but not much more than that). The shedding old egregores, the resetting my expectations into something approaching realistic, continues on (hampered now only with bouts of frustration). This new angle, I’ll have to see what I can do with it.

And I do hope it comes to something. Because I’m tired. Just, really tired.

What Little Sense There Is

It’s a pity, I sometimes think, that I didn’t come to these conclusions years ago; I feel, more than usual, that I’m here shouting into a void, preaching on a matter where the players have moved on, and the bystanders don’t know what I’m talking about. I doubt it would’ve made any difference, I’ve never had the ability to command attention or influence people, my words have always had a limited range (as frustrating as that can be at times, in certain circumstances, it’s probably an overall good; I wouldn’t really want the sort of responsibility that goes along with that). I don’t know how many people, in the aftermath of that long ago shit storm, were in the same boat as me, where their problems were coming from inside and not the external sources that were being held to blame, but I imagine some were, and an alternate perspective may or may not have been helpful. So many are gone now, vanished from the community altogether. Not uncommon with Paganism, it is still something of a pop phenomenon (though some argue it’s losing it’s power as such, and I think they may be right and I don’t think that’s a bad thing), attracting too many people here mostly for the scene, sub cultures or just some way to rebel against mainstream society; those types usually either lose that impulse or end up moving on to the next new thing. I tended to know more serious, devout types, here for the religion and the gods, but even there, circumstances change, burn out happens; it’s possible they just decided they were sick to death of the online community (understandable) and are off doing their own thing in the real world and just telling no one about it anymore. I hope that’s the case. For others, old battle lines are still drawn, and it looks like some additional fighting between some of the same people is still occasionally happening, amazing enough. I don’t think for a second any of them will ever see this, and if they did, one half would not care, and the other half wouldn’t want to hear it.

I don’t intend to obsess over this any more than necessary. The mistakes I made are done, that time is lost and I can not get it back; all I can do now is move forward, rebuild the bridges I neglected, and try not to let it happen again. Some understanding is needed for that last part, and that’s why I make these posts, but I may be coming to the end of the history book here (or at least the part of it I will share publicly). I won’t say this will be the last post on the great crisis, but there may not be many more.

When I read through one of my old blogs, as you may recall my mentioning, I was disturbed by an apparent attitude of callous disregard for the gods that I saw in my old words – one where I could still claim a close connection but I didn’t have to actually do anything on my end, and furthermore shouldn’t have to try, because I decided that I can’t, and if I say I can’t then I really can’t and that’s that, I can have my cake and eat it too and you can’t argue with me. I think if, at the time, you had attempted to point that out to me I would’ve been surprised that you’d even think such a thing; it wasn’t my intent, it wasn’t what I’d been thinking, and yet there it was, having slipped right through the cracks.

I’ve tried to make sense of my thought process, how it came to that point, but I’m not sure that sense can really be found. I think, for lack of a better way to put it, that something in my head broke and I went a little nuts there. My mind was just off kilter, seeing things that weren’t there, saying things out of line with what I meant and so out of touch I never realized any of it.

I can’t connect myself to those posts anymore, to even say what I was thinking. They seem to be written by a different person. Sometimes literally. I don’t see myself in those words, but I do see former friends of mine, people I was spending a great deal of time with after the initial blow up, a couple such people in particular. Certain words, certain turns of phrase, that was all them – I didn’t talk like that, not before, and not since. It was peppered in, all the time and increasing with every post, toward the end those were hardly my words at all.

To reiterate, again, not playing the blame game, not as far as this goes. Just to say I was parroting ideas that were not my own, over and over, and if I can make no sense of them now, well, those thoughts were never really mine to begin with.

I find that disturbs me even more, more than the first thing; it seems an even clearer sign that something was very wrong in my head. I wonder how it ever got to that state? I can’t say for sure. All I can think is that there was something wrong and I knew it, but I didn’t know what it was, and these people were the first who agreed with me, they recognized the problem and more, they offered a possible explanation. Maybe I just wanted it to be true because I didn’t have any other answers.

I can see, on this blog in the older writing before I abandoned it for seven years, I can see in some of the later entries that deterioration starting. It’s a tonal shift I notice very clearly now, though I’m not sure if you would (unless you’ve been following me for a while). On that second blog, a few years later then, it was in full force. I made some jokes at my own expense, but they were hardly exaggerations – every statement I’d make there would be ten paragraphs trying to justify it. Now I’ve always been a bit of a windbag, on a medium like this, it’s part of my lack of charm, but there’s something different about it there. It just seems so endless, so pointless, I cover the same ground in a thousand ways, repeat the same points over and over (and I’m the sort of person that might spend days writing a post like this, read it over several times before hitting that publish button, and I still thought that shit was fit for public consumption).

There is an air of desperation to it – this is all true, this statement is true, this mindset is true, it can all be justified, please believe me. And I think back to the recent half joke: are you trying to convince your audience or yourself?

I think I was trying to convince myself. I think every one of those desperate, unhinged posts were aimed at me, trying to make me believe any of it. And I don’t think it ever worked either. That’s why I had to keep trying, until I just gave up, why this sense of wrongness never fully left me, however many times I may have said I finally cornered it. If it ever had worked I might’ve been all right again, for a little while, I might’ve been able to move more down that path others who had convinced themselves were forging (I never did more than tip toe on it, before getting thrown off again, the delusions the path produced just weren’t enough to sustain).

I would’ve disappeared up my own ass that way, spending the rest of my days in the company of mental sock puppets I’d convinced myself were the gods I once knew and loved, who only now indulged my every petty whim and never asked anything difficult of me, while my life continued to go to shit around me. I will tread carefully here, but I believe I’ve seen a glimpse of where that path would’ve lead, what I would’ve turned into by now had I stayed on it: this connection watered down to a vague meaninglessness (assuming anything of it remained), and I a far more miserable and dysfunctional person. I am very glad I dodged that, very glad whatever sense I had left then kept me from it.

One of those people that I personally held to blame for my problems, that her mindset was poisoning me (toxic, it was toxic, fuck have I grown to loathe that word, loaded thought stopper that it is, I’ve made a concerted effort to purge it from my frequent vocabulary), she’s since published books. I own two of them, recently, and I’ve read through them a couple times now. I like them, I find them to be helpful, insightful and inspiring. Of course, I was in her circle once for a reason, because I liked what she had to say, because it felt meaningful and relevant to me (not that we were ever on exactly the same path, there were always some stark differences there, but there was also enough I could learn from, and I remember her being one of the first people I saw that was doing something more, someone who wasn’t laity, who wasn’t a community minister either, something other and making it work in spite of everything in society set up against that). Whatever happened, forever ago, in meatspace, doesn’t take away from that.

Yes, all the same words that I once thought the very embodiment of everything that was wrong, not just in the overall community but in my own life. Now, I’m hard pressed to find anything that warrants more than a mild disagreement. I still remember some of the issues (perhaps because those few were genuine, if once minor quibbles that only started to look big when amplified by an angry mob), and maybe the books just offer better explanations than I remember seeing way back when; or maybe the passage of time, the life experiences I’ve acquired since have moved me closer to that view than I was then (particular attitudes about mundane mainstream culture and wishing distance from it fall under here, can’t say I was ever a huge fan, but years of radio silence with nothing but the mundane world to contend with soured me further). But the rest of it, the majority of it, I just don’t know. Multiple readings have offered no enlightenment. I don’t mean places where I’ve changed my mind, I mean that I have no idea what I could’ve ever seen as wrong with any of it.

Oh, all that talk about work and responsibility is still there, of course. Of course it always had been, and I had no problem with it once. And I understand what it means: relationships are hard work, relationships with non corporeal entities are harder work, not everyone can be a mystic (or fill in title here) and even those who can still have to work for and earn it like you do absolutely everything else. Simple enough, common sense even.

The words themselves haven’t changed at all, in fact some of them in the books date back to that time period. The only thing that changed is me. I can’t imagine what twisted, anxiety brain Babel Fish I was using to translate it all into the threatening dirge I had come to see it as.

Because the problem (the toxicity, as it were) was all in me, and that bears repeating. Something was shaking lose in my head, cracks were getting bigger, and one result of that is I was scared. I was scared of the responsibility I was handed, I was scared of failure which was both most of what I had known and all that my unconscious impulses (not having attachments, goals, or even anything I want) were set up to achieve, I was scared to lose this thing that had come to mean so much to me. The mindset she advocated touched on just enough key points in that storm that I projected meaning onto it that wasn’t there, I projected a condemning, judgemental tone that (maybe?) was never there.

Just getting away from those people and their ideas would never have helped anything, anxiety brain could cause havoc just fine without them. And no amount of do whatever you need to comfort zone self indulgence would’ve ever helped, either; my ideas were wrong, my unconscious impulses were getting in my way, and it needed to be challenged so that I could come to see that. Sometimes you really do need to be pushed out of your so called comfort zone in order to realize that it’s not really all that comfortable, that it might actually be smothering you and maybe you’d be more comfortable elsewhere.

Though those vows were once a source of so much of this anxiety, I think it may all have ultimately been a good thing. If I can take anything from this experience, perhaps it’s the clear lesson on how I don’t get to just walk away. Seen from that light, failure isn’t possible, not the sort of failure that leaves you holding onto nothing. Just the more minor kind, where you get to get back up and try again, however many times it takes, until you do it right. I never knew how to look at it as a source of stability; while I do not know, and may never know, it’s possible that was at least part of the intention.

That I can read those books and see them for what they are, not the distortion my anxiety turned them into, says a lot about how far I’ve come. That soft reboot that happened a couple years back, when I’d just stopped trying and let go of it all, seems to have done wonders. Going back wasn’t just about practice, it was about mindset: getting back to the mindset when things worked, and then from that point, picking the better path.

Lost in the Storm

As I said last time, my spiritual breakdown caused a lot of problems, and other outside problems gathered around, coincidentally or not, piled on top of each other. It all combined to create a storm that was difficult to get out from.

Some of it was indirect, like the place I was living. I’d moved twice in quick succession when this was all getting going, my room mate and I were not in the first place a whole year before job opportunities took us elsewhere (and a good thing, that first city wreaked havoc on my health, I was allergic to everything and my badly clogged lungs sent me to urgent care three times in six months; I’m someone who doesn’t like doctors and normally does everything to avoid going, that’s how poor my health was). The second city had a few good points, but I hated the people there and I hated the culture, and the feeling was very mutual. Even for someone naturally unsociable, living in a place where you’re that isolated and that unhappy is difficult, with every passing year the environment was more of a psychic drain. I only escaped this last year, somewhere new that, for whatever faults it will later be revealed to have, is more my speed and I’m more comfortable in it.

The biggest directly contributing factors I’ve been able to identify thus far:

  1. I lost all ability to receive and correctly interpret signs and communication from Hermes.
  2. I didn’t know myself as well as I thought I did, went with the surface reactions instead of asking the right questions.
  3. I was hanging out with the wrong group of people.

On that last point, I’m trying not to play the blame game or make it too much about other people; if I’ve learned anything, it’s that blame can serve as a distraction and you may later end up eating your words. I didn’t have to listen anyone and I didn’t have to stay, what influence they may have had I allowed them to have; I’m mostly interested in my part of it, how it affected me and why I stayed far longer than I should have, so that I don’t make the same mistakes a second time.

Also, it bears clarifying, I’m talking about many people here and they’re not all to be painted with the same brush. Most were decent people who meant no harm, only wanted to help and who maybe got a different experience out of things than I did (I don’t know, I have a few ideas and opinions on that but it’s not my place to say). For some, this might’ve been just the group therapy they needed; for me though, it was the wrong group, with the wrong mindset at just the wrong time.

It was a ragtag collection of people who seemed to be united mostly in grievance: everyone felt burned by, and angry at, certain other people, including the individuals I’d had a then recent falling out with and had connected them to the spiritual problems I was having. Admitting to this was practically like being welcomed into a little club of people who all felt the same way, recounting experiences that sounded very similar.

This is not a great reason to form a social circle (even inadvertently, as it was on my part). Objectivity goes right out the window. I said I was encouraged to think the way I did, and a good part of that was the environment: that was the message, the truth that was agreed upon that united us all, those individuals are poisonous people and they ruin everything they touch, there were whole lists of things that contact with them ruined that got talked about very often. You hear this enough and it becomes true, you don’t think about it, why would I question that there was more to the problem than them when its so obvious? And as I said, I was angry myself at the time, due to the way things ended, I fed into that environment myself, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t.

I remained angry for a good long time, way out of proportion to what was really deserved. That’s another reason why social circles like this are not that great. I don’t have a negative view of anger, I’ve gotten through rough periods of my life thanks to it, I’ve said before and stand by the statement that not everyone deserves to be forgiven (that letting go of the past and forgiveness are not the same thing); that’s the point of view I come to this with, and I was very ready to let this go, much earlier than I did, but I wasn’t allowed to. There were some there, shit stirrers, who made it their business to monitor what those individuals were doing, and there were regular reports, just enough time goes by when you haven’t been thinking about it and you’re all cooled down and then here they come, “Oh you will not believe what so and so just did! Don’t they just suck? Hey, remember what they did to you?” Well, now I do, thanks. When I eventually stopped talking to every person involved in this (all at different times and for different reasons), that anger was already long gone in any real form; lacking any shit stirring, I realized it had been more than a year and I hadn’t even thought of those individuals once, and when I did I just didn’t care anymore. And only then could I look back on events with something like objectivity.

Starting to move through the other points, though they do all feed into each other, let me tell a story about that first move; the one that happened after the vows, before the blow up, when everything was falling apart but I didn’t know it yet. This move happened because my room mate had been laid off, as a lot of people were at the time it was at the height of the recession; the city we’d been living in wasn’t hit as hard as some others, fewer people were out of work but the ones who were weren’t finding anything. We weren’t very happy there and it was starting to look like homelessness might be in our future so maybe it would be a good idea to try our fortunes elsewhere, and some people we knew only online said hey, why not try them here, where we live? That’s the long and short of it.

I don’t know anymore where this started, and it doesn’t really matter, if it was me, if it was them, or if it was all of us at once, independent of each other, but it came to be said that Hermes was behind this move, that this was something he wanted and was orchestrating. This wasn’t uncommon talk among the people I knew then, and hey, it was possible. It lent the move a sort of weight and meaning in my mind that I didn’t even realize was there, until it all went so wrong (or, well, not entirely wrong, to be fair, homelessness was avoided after all, money was even pretty decent for a while).

Sometimes you assume things, what in your life is attributable to the gods, what are they guiding, what are you causing and what is just life moving along its course; sometimes you make mistakes, you shrug and move on. That’s on a normal basis. As it was, with things falling apart, with the way my expectations had changed post vows, that was the first solid arrow flung at my sense of connection and my confidence in that sense. It was something that very quickly snowballed out of control, until I barely knew what was what anymore.

There were a lot of people I knew whose gods exerted a lot of influence and control over them, you’d almost think they needed divine permission to shit. That’s only half a joke. There were people who reported the gods directed their actions every minute of every day, dictated their free time, the length of their hair, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, on and on. What is reported online doesn’t always match reality, to be sure, though some of it may be genuine. Hermes had never acted that way with me, there was no logical reason to think it would all of a sudden change, and while I know I said as much more than once I apparently had absorbed a very different idea. It was the crack that just kept on breaking, already uncertain and with every time I was told or told myself that something came from him and it turned out not to be, that grew more uncertainty and lead to bigger and bigger mistakes.

Getting past that, well first I needed to get away from every outside influence, then I started telling myself stories again from times when things happened, clear signs of presence and strings of coincidence that spoke of his blessings, the times when I knew beyond a doubt, the stories that formed the basis of my relationship with him. Patterns started to emerge.

I can say with certainty now Hermes had nothing to do with my move out there, and not just because of how badly it went. When he is orchestrating something he leaves obvious fingerprints: a dramatic change, a sudden windfall or loss that seems to come out of nowhere. For the very first time I moved, when he was rearranging my life, the windfall came in the form of a stranger I never met, who was living with one of the few friends online I had, who went out one night and decided to never go back not even to collect his belongings for whatever reasons only he knows, leaving my friend with an empty room that needed to be filled and just two weeks after Hermes told me it was time to move out. During this most recent move it was a loss, the only reason we were still in that city was because her job was good and we were trying to see if it couldn’t be transferred with us, then a year of being jerked around on getting that answer and us starting to wonder how we could plan around that, and she was called into work and out of nowhere laid off. The final obstacle gone, decision made, the rest of the arrangements fell immediately into place and we had saved up enough money that we could just pick up and go. Nothing of the sort occurred in that middle time. Furthermore, on both occasions his intervention was about getting me out of somewhere that was sucking the life out of me: the first city that was just where he was able to make an opportunity appear, this time my room mate and I picked the city ourselves, for a host of very mundane reasons. He didn’t care where I went, so long as it was somewhere new.

I have at this point set aside every spiritual notion I’d had during that time frame, few though they are; if they were important they’ll come up again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if none of it ever does. My mind was very compromised at the time, out of touch, too susceptible to outside influences (and once or twice actually hijacked by said influences, twisted far out of what I’d said and used to reinforce someone else’s narrative); it doesn’t follow patterns, what I still remember, it’s all very out of line with everything that came before it.

Though even as I’m working on this, another possibility presents itself to me; through John Micheal Greer, whose writings I’ve been binging on as of late. It is a possibility some of those more outlandish ideas were meant to be taken symbolically, dissected for the actual messages they contained, rather than taken literally, to make yourself seem more important. There certainly was plenty of that going on around me, taking everything very literally no matter what it was, claims moving from unusual but within the realm of possibility to more outlandish, and finally slipping all the way into fantasy role playing. A lot of boundaries got blurred and this sort of thinking (that there are boundaries, that some things are not possible) was not encouraged; it was easy to go along with the flow for a while, when the circle of people got smaller, more insular. Sorry to say my brains fell most of the way out of my wide open mind before I caught myself and shoved them back in. Discretion, it’s a very important element.

In some ways I might have been better off going in blind, taking things as they come (and in other ways not, it really is hard to say). Had I not been over exposed to other people’s stories, I might not have been preloaded with a particular set of seemingly common experiences; I might not have gotten caught up in literalism and labels, it may never have occurred to me at all to adopt the sort of language that I did had I not seen other people doing it, because the label and accompanying imagery means something to them and gets them in the right place but my mind doesn’t work that way, it doesn’t mean the same thing to me.

Know thyself. But that involves asking questions, asking the right questions, not stopping at the surface answers or the ones that make other people look like monsters and you a put upon saint. Back then, a lot of people claimed to feel pressured by certain people in the spirit worker circles; in retrospect it was entirely unrelated to my own issues. The sudden onslaught of talk about duty and responsibility and workworkwork that came directly to me from certain corners very much rubbed me the wrong way, reminded me of a bad childhood in a way that I couldn’t exactly pinpoint. Not to say I tried very hard, hit the wrong button and off you go, old defense mechanisms engage and the initial response seems like the right one. It was years before I really started thinking about it, before I could understand not just the way that I was once made into a scapegoat and set up for failure, but also (and more importantly) the way that has continued to affect my thoughts and behavior. That the talk brought to mind people trying to bait me into doing something that either they know is an impossible task (so that I can fail before the public and be humiliated, fulfilling my role as the reason everything else sucks) or they’re just trying to manipulate something out of me (and they’ll turn it into an impossible task by moving the goal posts last minute so they never have to follow through on their end), and the only way I ever learned to deal with such people is by not engaging, not being drawn into the game. It was also by not wanting things, not forming attachments, not having goals – that is a point I didn’t understand until relatively recently.

The person a lot of this came from, she was a, shall we say, goal oriented type, maybe a bit of an overachiever. She spoke in the language that motivates her, what she wants to hear and what gets her excited for a project. I do get that now, that in her own way, the only way she knew and understood, she was trying to help. The same words, to me, sounded like a trap, and in the middle of everything crumbling down the two fed off each other. I wasn’t able to articulate this at the time, not even had someone asked and of course no one did, not the original group and not the support group that sprang up in their wake. Whatever missteps original group may or may not have made, that’s not a healthy coping mechanism on my part, it’s something that needs to be recognized so that it can be adapted to. That’s not something that’s ever going to happen if you’re too busy running with initial instincts of bad feelings and pointing the finger at those who set it off.

More importantly, do you throw the baby out with the bathwater? Just because you had an initial bad reaction to some advice, does that make the advice wrong? No. And in this case especially no. If you want anything, want to learn a skill or advance in one, want to develop a relationship, secular or spiritual, it always, always involves study, practice and work. Even if you’re naturally talented, even if the gods are giving you a giant green light, no one escapes the need to work at it. You’re not special that way, it’s not going to just come to you for free; avoiding that reality means stagnation.

And that there is where the support group failed the most, as far as I’m concerned (and like I said above, this is how it worked for me, your mileage may have varied). People felt pressured, they were hurt and burned out and wanted to take people’s personal well being into account in a way they felt had been lacking before, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but as happens it went too far and created a dynamic that encouraged no growth. There is a vast difference between taking care of yourself (or we could reword that as being realistic, about your limits, which of them can and should be overcome, what you can and should reasonably be expected to do) and being so careful you produce nothing but a long string of excuses for why you stay exactly where you are. If that is where you want to be then fine, but that’s not usually the case. There were those (as the group got smaller, more insular) who went so far in the opposite direction as to be convinced work was not needed at all, that progress would just happen – all told it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the tone and content of beliefs and practices started to change so rapidly, started to look more like fantasy role playing than anything else.

Sloth is a big danger for me, it’s something I can slip into all too easily with the right circumstances and it can be very hard to pull back again. On the other hand, if those hot buttons don’t get pressed (and they usually don’t), being around people pursing their passion is beneficial and inspiring. They were beneficial and inspiring for a very long time, until this crisis stirred up a sense of insecurity looking for a cause. It can be too easy to take good ideas too far, start seeing every issue you have, not as an obstacle that can and should be overcome, but as an insurmountable brick wall in your path, as a pit to wallow in or a badge to wear, especially if you have a lot of other people around with the same issues, and their issues are most of what they’re talking about, it can make it all look bigger than it is. That focus was not what I needed.

There were a couple times during this mess that I really thought I’d hit rock bottom, but there was always more digging to do. Bottom came when I lost all touch with anything spiritual, I didn’t know how to hear Hermes’s voice anymore and all the religious thoughts and actions I’d collected were meaningless, and so it all shut down. I imagine this is usually where the story ends, but for me, perhaps owing to a strong stubborn streak, perhaps because I have no other life, it was instead the best thing for me. I let go of all the structures and social circles that had been built up around religion, and it provided a soft reset, no longer so bogged down I could think about it clearly again. I could finally do what I’d been advised to do multiple times but that my brain kept bungling the message: go back, all the way back to the beginning and then to where it started fucking up.

That soft reset applied to many other areas of life, spending a little time at bottom filled me with the angry determination to fix all this shit. Sorting out my health and living situation took precedent, but there’s nothing wrong with that, a poor physical condition and bad environment weighs on everything and it’s easier to focus when all that is in better order.

I know myself much better now than I did before. It’s still a jumbled, scotch taped mess in there, but I’ve found some solid pathways through, know where the hidden sinkholes are and know how to get around them, can recognize problems developing before they get too out of hand. I don’t know everything, certainly, and I won’t ever make the mistake again of thinking that I do.

So that’s my story: an internal crisis, set off after an initiation of sorts, that got confused and tangled up with the large amounts of drama that was happening with me and around me. It was not caused by former friends and acquaintances, it wasn’t caused by former social circles or the religious paradigm I was trying to work in at the time – quite the opposite, now that I can look back on it calmly. It still resonates, that paradigm, not perfectly but better than what came before and certainly better than the misguided and increasingly empty gestures that came after. All except for the duty bound and work driven language the message was dressed up in, but that’s the fun thing about language, it can be reworked. Find the words that speak to you, if you know yourself well enough (with a brutal honesty) you know what motivates you and what’s going to get you to the same end goal. Lucky for me, I’ve gotten pretty damn good at that.

The Great Spiritual Crisis

Before I get into the meat of the post (The Great Spiritual Crisis or How I Learned to Stop Shooting Myself in the Foot and Got My Shit Together), perhaps a brief refresher on how I got there to begin with might be in order. It’s been a long enough time that people have probably forgotten; hell, I forget myself sometimes.

I discovered Paganism in my early twenties, first through very questionable material that could be bought in bookstores, then gradually less questionable material found online. Making those first tentative steps from reading to practice, I met Hermes, who quickly claimed me for himself and went right about restructuring my life; several sudden out of nowhere changes and strings of dramatic coincidence that left me with very few doubts, and a great sense of security in that connection (kind of a rarity for me). I was a member of ADF and in the Hellenic Reconstructionist community, eventually I was sort of on the periphery of the spirit worker circle; I knew and was very friendly with a handful of individuals who were well known participants thereof, I brushed up on the edge of the wider circle as a silent lurker but most of my exposure was through a smaller group of individuals who were then all mutual friends.

During the latter half of the functional years there was a gradual shift away from the former groups and more firmly into that last; accompanying that was a shift in my religious practice. It wasn’t my calling to be a layperson or a holiday Pagan (not in my nature either – full on life consuming obsession or don’t bother, for better or worse that’s how I can be), and while I appreciate all the studying I did on ancient and modern tradition, I didn’t feel the connection with the culture that a lot of other recons seem to; it was a means to an end not an end in itself, my interest was solely with the god. Boundaries started to blur a little, things got more intense, and I found myself being pointed in an altogether new direction.

I accepted a new role with him, a new responsibility, and took vows to that effect. Once I was more open about this, but that was a long time ago and I’ve since changed my mind; for many reasons, I’ve gained a deeper respect for privacy, some details do not need to be (and maybe should not be) shared. Said vows and responsibility do not involve the community or any other individual people, so there is no pressing reason why anyone else needs to know; you’ll just have to bear with me on it, I promise not to bring it up a thousand times in teasing hints and glimpses.

I mention it because it was after those vows that everything went to shit. Like, right immediately after. In retrospect, the connection between the two is so obvious it’s painful. Not that I understood it at the time, or for a long time after.

It was an…initiation crisis? Is that the right word? The sort of breaking and remaking that happens when you let the gods in, give your life to them. I was not then (and am not yet) in any way fit to fulfill that new role; oddly (or not) it brushes up against near every weakness, trauma, social deficiency and life experience gap that I have. I was never going to naturally grow into someone who could, poof, done! No, this was always going to be necessary, and it was always going to be unpleasant – and will be unpleasant once more in the future I have no doubt, but this time at least I will understand what is happening.

It seems hopelessly naive now, but at the time I wasn’t expecting anything of the sort. Much earlier, when I recognized Hermes as a patron (to use the common phrase) I solidified it with a ritual that did involve some formal vows. I suppose I had thought it would be similar, an acknowledgment of the situation as it currently stood, and things would just continue as it had been, no fireworks let alone a mass explosion. I probably knew a little more going in than other people get to ahead of time because of the company I was keeping – though in other ways that same company left me more unprepared for the individual experience than I might’ve been had I gone in blind and took things as they came. Maybe there is no real way to be prepared?

Had someone sat me down before hand and explained what might happen in undertaking this, would it have made a difference? It’s easy to think you can handle something in theory, the reality doesn’t always turn out as you’d expect; I suspect that would’ve been the case. Though if I had known, perhaps I could’ve braced myself for the onslaught, perhaps I would’ve recognized it for what it was sooner. I do not think I needed to lose as much time to it as I did.

I made a very crucial, but likely common error, in trying to trace the problems back to the source, when I could no longer deny that there was a problem. Some of it was a matter of unfortunate timing, some of it was the environment I was in at the time, but some of it I don’t have any other excuse for. I laid the blame for it at someone else’s feet. Particular someones. Everything stemmed from my close association with them, they were poison people, their ideas were poison, their practices and standards are poison, and I got to purge it all out of my head, out of my practice, and then all will be well.

It’s easier to blame others than it is to take a good long look in the mirror. It worked out as well as such things usually do.

Wrong assumptions can have a degree of truth in them, as this one did. It was my association with them that started it, they got the ball rolling (entirely unintentional on their parts), but it was less a deliberate sabotage, or malicious neglect, more like stumbling onto a hidden landmine that set off so far away you never know what you did. If it hadn’t been them it would’ve been someone else, or something else, a light breeze would’ve done the job. I’d thought I knew myself better than I really did, I’d thought (more naivety) that I had my shit together more than I in fact actually did. My psyche was a jumbled mess of psychological scars and broken bits held together with store brand scotch tape and hope, I knew just enough how it worked to get through the basics of life, but I was adding a lot of stressers to the mix, even before giving a god free range of the place. It was going to fall apart sooner or later, with or without all this, it needed to fall apart because it wasn’t stable and wasn’t healthy.

As I said, there was some unfortunate timing involved in this. That association had come to an end in a, shall we say, less than ideal fashion. All the result of very mundane personality clashes; some friendships only come about because of the distance the internet provides, they don’t all translate into meatspace reality, some in fact go very bad very quick without that distance. Things had deteriorated by that point when the blow up occurred, enough so that it was just starting to dawn on me that there was something going on, something wrong. You can see where the mistake was made – it was not a full mistake, the connection was there, I noticed it at a time when I was mad for other reasons, and so I ran with it.

I was also encouraged to think this way, at the time and for a long time after. But this is getting a bit long as is, so I think I’ll save the other, outside factors that helped push this already unpleasant ordeal into the half decade time sink that it turned into, for another post.

I’d thought the whole situation was external, that I’d gotten lost on (lead down) the wrong path, and I needed to find my way off of it in order to get it working again, find that right path I had in fact never left (just stalled while some internal maintenance was done). And so in going off to look for something I already had in hand, I created the mess I was trying to solve and spent years lost in the storm.

Leaving the storm, and some of the reasons it was such a struggle, that will be next.

Don’t look now, I think it’s a new post…

Do you know that I still sometimes get follow notices for this blog? Even though I haven’t touched it in…good gods, seven years! Wow, has it been that long? Yeah, I guess it really has. Is it just on the off chance I change my mind, after all this long time, and wander back to post again?

Well, if so, I guess someone’s getting their wish. 🙂

In truth, I’ve gone back and forth on reviving this blog zombie for maybe two years now, debating with myself the pros and cons. Do I have anything to say anymore? And if I do, is it really worth it for me to say it?

It has been a wild ride, these last seven years; to say it has left me very changed is a vast understatement. Looking through these old blog entries again, I feel no connection to them, they were written by a different person, a very stupid person. A lot of it now makes me wince with embarrassment, and a strong desire to reach back in time and try to knock sense into past me.

I think I have some insight, I think the problems are passing… Oh foolish child, you have no idea. It has only just begun, and you are all unknowingly walking ever deeper into the shit storm. You don’t know a damn thing.

It’s that experience that runs through my mind when I consider raising my head again, when I consider what I might have to say. If for no other reason than because I did have a lot to say about it once (perhaps I should add here that I have had other blogs in the intervening years, though they do not exist anymore for good reason) and almost all of it was wrong. Maybe the sort of wrong that needs to be corrected – especially where other people were concerned, even if no names were ever mentioned plenty knew or could easily guess whom I was speaking of. If I do nothing more than get that story out, leave it here for bored internet wanderers to find and then vanish forever, it might be worth it.

Unlike when I began this blog, I have become very reclusive over the last several years, perhaps especially on the internet. I have retreated from group involvement, I am not on social media, I’ve had little to do with people who are not family by blood or choice in quite a while now. For the most part, I am okay with this, furthermore I think I’ve been better off this way. I have a personality type that is heavily introverted and disagreeable, which makes me something of a natural loner and I have embraced that. One day I may change my mind and wish to reach out again, but that has not been my inclination of late, and I’m not sure I see it changing in the very near future.

The pagan community as well has changed quite a bit since I was active in it – much longer than seven years ago. That is to be expected, and honestly most of the changes I note are ones I’m not terribly surprised by (for good or ill), but there is a lot I don’t like about the current tone and focus. There are a bare handful of pagan blogs I pay attention to any longer, as in I could count them on one hand – a depressing situation, one I try to rectify sometimes, combing through what I can find for something that doesn’t give me a headache, occasionally I even find a new gem but very often it’s just more headache.  And this will change again, I’m sure, as all things do, and maybe it will even get better instead of worse. For now though it is what it is, and it’s another factor keeping me at bay.

Only partially, that last. Because there is a part of me that thinks to come out here and offer an alternative, talk about the things I want to see discussed, as I used to, what I miss seeing. Amazing to me that there is anything left in me that thinks that way, the aforementioned introverted/disagreeable personality type making me both ill suited to and uninterested in the sort of go forth and set the example thing certain groups I used to be a part of would encourage of each other. I suppose some things are important enough to you that you want to try, even if it’s not in your nature.

I can’t promise I’ll be a regular presence here, in fact I can all but promise I will not be, I was never great at scheduled content. I do want to get my post up about the great spiritual crisis (which might be several posts, depending), and after that I’m not sure. We’ll play it by ear.

If you remember me from years back, or if you’ve just wandered by at some point and were curious: yes I’m still alive, no I haven’t converted away, still here doing what I need to do (trying, trying very hard), still getting by and doing a little better at it than I used to.