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.

On Limitations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Passing the Point of No Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost in the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Spiritual Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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