On the Threshold, Looking Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity and Group Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.