The Masks They Wear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh.

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

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

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

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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.

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.

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 gateway is full of ghosts, also full is the courtyard

Before embarking on our epic, cross country move, the girlfriend and I did a divination to see if we had the gods’ backing, both in regards to locale and timing. That was what came up as the description of our lives in Baltimore. It is apt.

Almost every post I’ve made here has in some way referenced the constant struggle my spiritual life has become, it has been going on for that long. I would come here with some insight, convinced I knew the root of the problem, convinced I could move forward, or at least fake it until I make it. And things really would be better, for a while at least. And then it would all fall apart again, leaving me often more depressed than I was before. I just could not seem to climb over that wall or outrun the negative thought loop in my head.

I was not able to try working off the success I had with my Hermaversary celebration (which was my last post here until recently), because just shortly after that the circus freak show that was my cross country move swung into high gear. I was unable to spend much time dealing with religious matters because all my energy was going to dealing with epic amounts of stress and keeping my head from exploding. When I arrived here and much of that stress (though by no means all of it) was gone, its cause if not its after effect, I took a much needed and well earned break. I lost myself in some of my favorite relaxing activities and swore off anything that would cause me more stress – which, sadly perhaps, did include my spiritual life. It wasn’t how I wanted to come down here but I was at my absolute wits end and I needed it.

But just because I wasn’t actively pursuing it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t in the back of my mind; turning over and over, insights bubbling up to the top, as these things often do, just waiting until I’m ready to deal with it again. That moment finally came a short time ago, and finally here we are again. Yet another post on how I know what is wrong.

Yes, I do think I have some new insight. But I don’t think any of the old ones I came up with were wrong. They were all a small part of the puzzle, but not the whole picture that I initially took them for. And those insights I did have I tended to underestimate and downplay their effect on me, in my desperation to have it all be over and over now, I tried to convince myself the problems were not as bad as they really were. Of course my mind knew better, and sooner or later it reminded me of that.

The change in my relationship dynamic with Hermes is a big part of it. Probably I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. Thought it would be okay because it was Him and I know Him and I trust Him, but it isn’t. No matter how much I just want to be okay with it, it just hasn’t happened. Yes, a lot of my expectations were heavily influenced by the experiences of others and that did me no favors, but that certainly isn’t all of it. It changed the way I see Him in relation to myself, it changed my instinctual reaction to Him. It made me uncomfortable; and when I’m uncomfortable, my walls go up.

My leaving the company of two groups was harder on me that I at first wanted to admit. I had spent quite a while with both of them, both had in some way shaped my spiritual life when it was in new and vulnerable state, and not all of that influence was ultimately healthy or beneficial. It is amazing how your behavior can be influenced by group think, even when you might not personally agree with something you might still do it anyway, or just be reluctant to go against it, even if every sign is pointing you in that direction, because its just not what’s done. It wasn’t just the stress from interpersonal drama, the way I would be told I’m one of the group while at the same time being singled out by them, being needlessly ridiculed over practices and beliefs and attempts (on both sides) at re-education when my life didn’t perfectly line up with your standards. I have a lot of lessons I need to unlearn, a lot of group imposed taboos to shatter, in order to move on in the direction I need to go in.

I have acknowledged that I feel a good deal of bitterness toward my former spiritual homes, one for leaving me so woefully unprepared for the things that happened to me, and the other for not being the support base it purported itself to be. Recognizing this anger will,  I think, be helpful in moving forward. But it will likely take a lot of time and work to find all those unnecessary and toxic beliefs running around in my head, and deeply ingrained thought patterns don’t just vanish overnight.

But that, I now realize, was not all of it. And even acknowledging the true severity of those issues wouldn’t have helped me earlier. Because the problem, the bigger picture, was my life itself. Everything in my life was wrong.

I remember something that Hermes told me right before I moved to Baltimore at His request, when I was still talking things through with my future room mates but before anything was finalized and so my mind was still thinking of other potential places to go. Hermes told me I needed to go to Baltimore first because there was something I needed to do there; after it was done I would leave, go further out and settle elsewhere. I always remembered that even if  didn’t pay close attention to it. And it didn’t take too long to figure out what I was doing in Baltimore, I was there to collect my partner, to help to drag her out of her life and take her on the road with me. My moving there was a catalyst for both of us, almost immediately our lives began changing in ways we never would have predicted and in ways that were unsettlingly similar; we both began more and more disconnected from things and people we had thought were important, and pushed us closer together as a result. That experience bonded us together even before we fell in love, which is of course exactly what They wanted. Once I saw the writing on the wall, I knew my purpose in that city had been fulfilled and it was time to leave.

And it took us two years to actually leave.

For her it’s completely understandable, it must be hard to walk away from a life you’ve been living for years, to fully convince yourself there is nothing there worth salvaging. But for myself? I’m honestly not sure now. I was miserable there more often than not, most of the connections I made (with few exceptions, and they know who they are because they are the people I’m still speaking to) brought me more stress than benefit. And yet I kept trying anyway. I put myself through the wringer trying, I wore myself out, I made myself sick, trying to make things work that I knew, somewhere in my mind, were never going to.

Perhaps because it was my first time out in the world after I escaped the abuse and retreated from society to allow my wounds time to heal; perhaps because it was my first chance at having the real life everyone always told me I never would. Perhaps because He had sent me there and I didn’t want to let Him down by blowing it all to hell, I wanted to make it work for His sake as well as mine.

It was not entirely a wasted effort, I learned a lot about what my limits really were, how to work within them and where I need to call it quits; those were mistakes I needed to make so that I don’t make them a second time. But once Renee and I were together, once we were bonded in that way that made us partners on this divine roller coaster ride, my purpose there was done and Baltimore became, officially, a dead end for the both of us. And yet there we were, trying to make a life in what was only supposed to be a brief pit stop.

I’ve come to see my time in Baltimore now as one long, long transitional period; things didn’t really improve while I was there, it all just changed, one piece at a time, into something completely different until, aside from the fact that Hermes and I were still standing there, all else was unrecognizable. It’s a lot for a person to go through, even if I was given someone to go through it all with. Everytime I thought I had a handle on where I was going, another piece was taken away and replaced with something different and there I was, back at square one. And when all that change was said and done (for the time being anyway, knock of wood), I had no hope of moving forward on my new path because I was living in a spiritually dead place, surrounded by the ghosts of what once was; any success I thought I found there would, of course, be only a ghost itself, vanished by dawn’s light leaving me alone in my confusion again.

Its hard for me to believe now that I genuinely didn’t see it. Right after we acknowledged it was time to go and then didn’t, everything immediately fell apart, and this spiritual crisis of mine finally reared its ugly head. The timing fits so perfectly, I feel like an idiot for missing it. But I guess it is easier to see clearly from the outside than you can in the middle of the fray.

But I am in a new place now, where my gods wanted me to be for the time being. I’ve been taken about as far away from everything I once was while still remaining in the same country, what better place to make a fresh start of everything.

I’m not going to say that all will be well shortly, or even that I’ve made any significant progress. I’m tired of saying that and turning out to be wrong, it’s getting embarrassing and I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about it. It’s unrealistic to expect that everything will just go poof overnight, even if I was in peak condition and I’m really not, I’m really burned out from the last several months and the last four years. These issues I’ve raised here can not be ignored (I tried, not going to happen) and exorcising them will not be easy work.

Starting my relationship with Him was easy enough, I wasn’t even looking for it it was just there. Some part of my mind thinks it should be that easy again; but its different now and it won’t work like that again. I look back on what I used to have and wish I could go back there again, forget all this that I was given because life was easier without it; that also is not going to happen, and I really think that, if presented with that opportunity, it is not what I would really want. And either way, even if the vows could be dissolved it’s not like it will erase this time it will still be different and I would always wonder what I might have had, likely to my detriment. I’ve been given a clean slate, but the writing that used to be there is still just barely visible, I can’t pretend I don’t see it or that I don’t remember what was there, or that it won’t continue to influence my behavior for some time to come.

I have now, I think anyway, done all that I needed to do to get myself in the right position. I’ve moved out of that city of ghosts, I’ve cut ties with all the dead ends in my life so none of that can influence me anymore than it already has. I’ve fixed it so that the only real voices I will hear will be my partner’s and my god’s. I continue to wish longingly that there was some other tradition I could join up, continue to think it might have been easier to have a template to work off of instead of feeling my way around in the dark (and I know some people out there would really envy me that total freedom I’ve been given, and maybe one day I’ll be able to look back and see this as a good thing, but I don’t envy me much right now and there is no use pretending I feel differently), but that is also not going to happen and it’s another mistake I don’t intend to make again. External circumstances are as right as they are likely to ever be; the rest is up to me, and time.

Will it all work out? I don’t know, I’d like to think so, but the obstacles are such that it feels foolish to make any promises. It will take time though, and work, real work, and that I need to keep reminding myself. I’m not just simply getting back on the horse like I’ve been trying to tell myself; that horse is long gone, there is a bull there in its place, and I’ve all but forgotten how to ride.

Time to Move On

If you are a Pagan of some variety (and I imagine that at least most of the people reading this blog are) then you may have noticed this past month was a tad… well, crazy. The Pagan Wide Crazy has affected most of the people and groups that I’m acquainted with, as every even small frustration and minor personal problems all erupted at the exact same time. The massive infighting, which we Pagans are more than used to dealing with, was a lot worse than I ever remember seeing it before.

I’m not usually one to give much weight to concepts like Mercury retrograde, especially when I so often see it employed Pagan wide as a get out of being a douche free card. But this incident, how far reaching it was, almost makes a believer out of me. If it had been just a few people in one group in one tradition perhaps, but its hard to believe even for a more skeptical mind that this was all pure coincidence.

The end result of this incredible drama filled month is several people walking away (or going to walk away) from the various groups, organizations, internet communities that they once called home and foraging out on their own. And yes, as you may have guessed, I will be among those people walking away.

This is not something that suddenly came up in the last month (in all likelihood wasn’t for any of the people who have walked away, even if it may have seemed that way to those they left behind), it’s not something I’m doing because of everyone else many of whom are friends of mine (though I admit their leaving as well does lend some strength to my move as well) and it likewise has nothing to do with personal problems that have occurred between me and a group I was once involved in (which some of you may or may not be familiar with). This is something I have been struggling over for some time. I have been silent here and silent elsewhere in other religious venues as I slowly and rather painfully worked out how to make this final major change to get me to the place where I need to be now.

Actually back when I accepted that the reconstructionist label no longer fit who I am and what I was doing, I should have taken the hint then it was time to back off from the community. I had thought it would be easy enough to continue interacting with people and groups, because after all nothing with me has changed that dramatically. I didn’t immediately see the overall problem with that statement: I have left behind a label that no longer has any real relevance to me, and yet I will remain in groups defined by that label.

At one point in time, I definitely needed it. When I was first starting out, first learning, the online community was an invaluable resource. And indeed I was one of the people who managed to make it through my newbie years unscathed, something that people who didn’t manage it like to claim is impossible (of course, I also did a lot of research on my own, was more likely to ask for sources rather than answers and carefully worded the questions that I did ask so that I would not be misunderstood). But now, as far as the basics of belief and practice go, I already pretty much know where the majority of the community stands and, more importantly, I know where I stand, and as I explained in a previous post that place where I stand is fairly far off from the average. And there is still a lot that I need to learn in order to do the things I need to be doing, and those are not things that I can learn from lists and forums, not things I can share with the people there.

My spiritual life has largely been on hold for this last year, part of this has to do with internal problems that were cranked into high gear with my second dedication to Hermes almost a year ago now (and that part I’m sure came as no surprise to him and was likely planned on, knowing me as well as he does), but also because of my being slow to act on several of the changes I need to make in my life to get myself to the place where I need to be. A year spent up against a road block is more than long enough, and its high time that I go through and make the changes that I can make (because not all of them can happen overnight, unfortunately). It is no longer good enough to maintain ties with communities just because they once held some importance to me even though that is no longer the case, because I’m not at the same place or because they themselves changed. If something is not actively contributing to my spiritual life, if I am not getting something out of the association (and they getting something out of an association with me) then it is not worth it to continue on. There is a limit to how social I can be even over the internet (I am an introvert through and through :)) and how many different things I can pay attention to at the same time; I need to focus myself in appropriate directions and weed out any and all distractions.

Though I do not intend to sit here and bad mouth the community as a whole (certain individuals within the community yes ;)), it goes without saying that it needs some work if it is going to stay around and be a real presence in the years to come. That many of the long term and more successful organizations are currently going through major upheavals (mostly centered around prominent members leaving) and re-evaluating who they are and what they want to be accomplishing is (I hope) a sign that this change is about to begin. Truly, I wish them all the best of luck.

But this does also signal, as is usual in times of healing and transformation, that things are also about to get a lot worse before they get better – if they get better. And this also presents yet another reason why I need to back off now.

I am a liminal person serving a liminal god; this has always been the case, but over this last year my liminal status has become even more pronounced (if possible) than it was before. I have never been community oriented (note that I did not say anti-community, there is a huge difference between condemning something altogether and recognizing that, while it is a positive thing for others, it does not work for you) and always knew I was destined to be mostly solitary, serving Hermes in a private one on one fashion as opposed to on behalf of a (human) community, that any involvement I might have in the community would be secondary at best and any impact an indirect result of that private work – which makes sense if you think about it, as Hermes’ action in the world often comes about through accident and coincidence, indirect routes. For those who want to insist that if you are not neck deep in community then you are Doing It Wrong, I must respectfully (or not so respectfully, such as the case may be) disagree; this may not be a common, mainstream path but it is certainly a legitimate one. Every religion has its fringe element, and that is where I plan to be.

If the community is going to survive and rebuild itself, it’s going to take a lot of work, and people that are both realistic about what that work actually entails and are committed to getting it done. It may never be a community it a traditional sense – keeping in mind there that I draw a very sharp distinction between “community” and “a bunch of people loosely tied together over a particular commonality”; the latter does not equal the former (that many people expect that it does is, I think, one of the biggest sources of the Pagan Drama we all know and love), it takes a lot more than having one thing in common and co-existing in some internet elist (or even in a real world group) to make a community. It may never be more than the latter (with a few real, smaller communities scattered here and there), but that doesn’t mean things can’t be a lot more functional than they currently are. People need to decide what they really want, and more importantly, what they are willing to do to accomplish that. It’s not going to be easy by any means.

And, as a liminal person, I am not meant to be a part of this solution. My focus is, and has to be, on my largely personal and private relationship with Hermes and the Work he wants me to do. I simply do not have the same investment, personal or spiritual, in the formation of a community (or functional group of people) that those who both want and need, again personally or spiritually, that in order to be fulfilled and doing what Work they need to do. And as such, I can not allow their problems to become my problem; especially in the midst of a massive upheaval and the (hopefully) start of a major transitional period, I need to back away.

A lot of people might not like this, and indeed people who are very community oriented often do not understand (and mistake the motives of) those of us who are not. We all have our part to play, and it isn’t all focused in the same direction. This troubles I’ve had this last year have really shown me where my place is, where my focus is, and how I truly need to be moving in the right direction or the rest of my life suffers as a result. Being embroiled in community drama is proving to be both a distraction and a drain; a year is more than long enough I can not remain stuck behind this road block any longer, I need to put my energy back into my relationship and my private practice. The community is not truly benefitting from my presence as I said I can not be part of the solution to their troubles; I could continue to hang around and take up space anyway but that would be pointless, worse I could try and force myself to be involved and volunteer for work I’m unlikely to ever actually do because my heart isn’t really in it (while sacrificing my actual Work in the process) but that would cause far more harm than good. Really, this is best for all involved.

I do not intend to disappear from the internet altogether, merely pulling back into my own private corner of it. There is likely some good that I could do here publicly for those who seek me out, not to mention the individuals I’ve met who do contribute to my spiritual life whom I don’t want to lose contact with and… well, I am an introvert with a lot of trauma related issues and many problems interacting with people in person, the internet has always been a social outlet for me, to help find the few people out there I can relate to and tolerate. And I may even maintain some presence on a small handful of lists and forums, provided they are contributing something to me and I to them. For those who want to find me, there is always my Livejournal and of course this blog. And as I refocus my energy into building my spiritual life in the direction it needs to go, I hope to be using this blog a lot more than I currently do, as I’ll have more to talk about again.

And to those in these various groups I’m parting ways with, I do thank you for the help you once gave me and, once again I truly wish you the best of luck in the future.

Issues of Ownership

I sometimes describe my religion as being “Hermes Owned and Operated.” In lieu of simple labels, it seems accurate enough and most people do understand what I mean. Of course, it is also supposed to be somewhat tongue in cheek.

The first time I ever referred to myself as owned was in a Livejournal entry as an offhand joke while I mused on my first year of being formally dedicated to Hermes. It might have been forgotten entirely, but that someone I then had barely even heard of decided to be personally offended by what I had said, launched a tirade against me elsewhere, presenting the situation in an overblown and highly distorted form making it seem that I said a whole ton of shit I never once implied. The ensuing drama assured that the phrase stuck in my head.

I have not continued using the phrase entirely out of spite. Having had time to think it over carefully, there is a degree to which it is very applicable.

I find myself generally dissatisfied with the term “patron god,” though it is one that I have been using for years now because it is a term that people in the Pagan world know and recognize. It is a problematic word however because its definition is a bit too flexible and not universally agreed upon. People use patron to describe the god they are fully devoted to and serve in a formal and often public fashion, to a deity they have a moderately close relationship with though without the mundane life interference or call to serve, to whichever deity they happen to worship more than the others for whatever the reason (their job, mutual interests, just think they’re cool). Some people hold to a more conservative definition (as I do) others far more liberal. It can, and has, made for a confusing situation.

I do believe that a different term is needed to describe those with close relationships with their deities but who are ultimately still another faithful worshiper like any other, and one for those whose deities strongly interfere in their every day lives and who do feel called to serve those gods (whether that is through a community or in a more direct and private way). It has nothing to do with issues of specialness, wanting to paint myself like I’m better than anyone else. Its because the relationship dynamics are different, the expectations are different. Thus I believe descriptive terms should reflect that difference without my having to give an extra explanation.

I am of the opinion the word patron works better for the more intense, service oriented relationships, and that a different word should be used for the god you happen to feel closest to (before accepting Hermes as my patron, I referred to him as my primary deity, that worked for me and people generally understood what I was talking about). I also know that this is not going to happen. Definition wars rarely work in favor of the aggressor, when large groups of people have been using a word a certain way for a great length of time they are not going to appreciate someone barreling over with their chest puffed out insisting that you can’t use that word anymore because I’ve decided to define it according to how I think things should be. I’ve been on the other end of that before, I didn’t take kindly to it and the hell that I’m going to turn around and do the same thing. However right you may think you are, sometimes the only thing that can be done is to find a word of your own to use. One of these days perhaps, I or one of my clever friends will dream up a perfect general term to describe this relationship dynamic. Until that happens, these problems remain.

As well as being tongue in cheek, by calling myself owned I wished to convey the intensity of our relationship and the place he holds in my life (if I can be both funny and serious at the same time than, as one of Hermes’ people, that’s exactly what I should do). For the most part, people understand this and I’ve not had problems with reasonable people understanding my meaning.

I was accused of being a slave in the attack against me, that by calling myself owned I was implying a master/slave dynamic in which I have no autonomy whatsoever. I do not honestly believe that this was an genuine misunderstanding so much as it was it was a deliberate distortion, especially as it has never happened since except with one individual who lets his biases be known loud and clear.

That does not concern me. However, there are in fact those who identify themselves as godslaves, who refer to their deities as “owners” and they do mean it in the master/slave dynamic and they often do mean that they have little or no personal autonomy. And this movement is beginning to gain some publicity. And its more for this reason that I want to clarify what I mean, so as not to confuse those familiar with a different dynamic.

When I finally began noticing the flood of omens that Hermes was sending my way, when I acknowledged that his interest in me was far from casual and that he was my patron and pushing me toward something else, I made a pledge to take vows to him in service after a year’s time; a year because there is no reason to rush such things, I wanted to take the time to be certain that I was doing the right thing, that this was really what I wanted and that it was really what he wanted.

By the time I was ready to make my vows, everything in my life had changed.

My childhood was an abusive one, physically and emotionally; the severity varied by degrees at different points in time, but it was overall a negative experienced marked by encounters with people that beat me, neglected me, ridiculed and degraded me, or betrayed the trust I foolishly placed in them. The recovery process from this took time, and by necessity was something I had to do on my own. It was during this recovery time that Hermes first made himself known to me, and it was largely because of him that I was able to recover at all (by rights I should not be any where near as functional as I am). But I would not be much use to him living in isolation as I was, and continuing to live with a family I simply don’t get along with in close quarters was taking a severe toll on me. So these were some of the things that he fixed.

Within that year Hermes brought me out of a transitional period, and gave me a whole new life. He arranged for me to move to a new city, to have a steady income, a romantic relationship, hell he even gave me a pet as a birthday present. I have a small real life community of friends and acquaintances, and a far larger internet community of the same. My physical health and mental well being have improved a thousand times over.

I’m not going to pretend it was all easy and wonderful, nothing ever is and Hermes is not exactly a god of the easy path. Though the apartment I’m living in now is beautiful and peaceful and I’m alone with my girlfriend, the first two homes were far less than ideal (in unsafe locations, with unpleasant people), and there was a brief stint working at a job that … well, to call that place a massive and constant dramafest would be a severe understatement. But even these were far better than the conditions I was living under before and, right now, things are about as close to perfect as they have ever been, and far more than I thought I ever deserved.

Hermes had a hand in all of this, his involvement was considerably less than subtle as far as I am concerned, though of course you are invited to believe me on these points or not. It was only about a week after Hermes and I had a long talk about why I needed to leave my mother’s house, a week after he got me to agree to look into relocating within a year, that one of the few online friends I had at the time told me one of her room mates bounced his rent check and then disappeared never to be heard from again, she needed a new room mate and she needed one in about a month (“But I thought we agreed on a year?’ I said. No, we said within a year, he replied, a month is within a year). That coincidence is too much for me to explain away, my healthy skepticism can’t dismiss it; and having some very solid real world evidence of the gods’ influence in your life can be a wonderful thing.

Everything in my life now has his fingerprints on it, and I went through with my lifetime vows. Because of these things, I consider there to be some truth in saying that I am owned when most every aspect of my life, both by his design and my vows, do belong to him.

But my turning so much over to him has nothing to do with obligation, with feeling as though I have to because he’s a god and he’s bigger than me. It has to do with trust, Hermes has earned my trust over the years, has proven over and over again that he has my best interests at heart. Should that ever change that trust could be lost, I don’t think it will ever come to that but walking away is a possibility.

***Warning, the following contains graphic depictions of UPG which may or may not be relevant to your practice, viewer discretion is advised***

It is not my opinion that Hermes is looking for slaves, but for very independent people. Hermes is a god of freedom, as many are though what sort of freedom they each offer can be very different. I believe that Hermes, in part, offers freedom from ties of obligation. His is the freedom of the wanderer, always on the road always moving, very little that can really hold on to him or keep him down. Which doesn’t mean going through life with no ties (unless that is what you need), but that ties are not something foisted upon you, that you just owe them some loyalty and you have no choice. You need to choose your own ties, and choose them very carefully; who do you want to be a part of your life, who do you want to extend your loyalty to, that you want to be obligated to?

I choose to bind myself to Hermes, I choose to belong to him. I choose that every day. And if one day I should find that it is no longer my choice, for whatever the reason, I do think he would rather I stop making that choice and walk away rather than remain unhappy at his side because I feel that I have to. I don’t see that day coming, but I know I have that option.

If I were ever to take that option, I know I wouldn’t walk away for free and a lot of the benefits I experience in my life may well vanish. However uncomfortable some people are with that, it is to be expected; reciprocity lies at the heart of every relationship especially divine ones, its a give and take. With extra privilages comes extra work, extra responsibility, and if I were to stop giving, no longer living up to my end of the bargain, he would be well within his rights to pull out as well. It would be no different than a human marriage coming to an end, you can’t go file for divorce from your spouse and still expect everything in your life to remain exactly the same; you might end up losing your house, your children at least some of the time, a large chunk of your possessions, your income, insurance benefits, the list goes on. Ending a divine relationship can be looked at much the same way, especially one that was close, intense and long term.

I have met those who consider this another form of slavery, them holding this over your head in order to keep you in line. Even beyond the very me centric notion that the gods should be expected to give you everything without you having to do much if anything in return (like I said, extra benefits extra work), I find this insulting on a more personal level.

I am not in this for what I can get out of him, I would not deserve this relationship if I was. Even were all these benefits to disappear tomorrow (and I’m sure some will sooner or later, life can not be wonderful all the time and no deity can make it so however much they may like you or not) I would still be here. I’m here because of a deep affection I have for him that has built in the years I’ve known him, that makes me want to serve him in whatever way he needs me to. Its that affection that keeps me at his side, and will keep me here so long as it remains.