Learning the Value of Practice and Tradition

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

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

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

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

So close, but just not close enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been good having a research project again.

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The Great Spiritual Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gateway is full of ghosts, also full is the courtyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it took us two years to actually leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Serve

A friend of mine  answered this question on her own blog not long ago now, and,  Since I am now celebrating the one year anniversary of my second set of vows to him, vows which initiated a very difficult spiritual period for me, this may be the time to answer that question again.

I can not say that I was someone who always wanted to devote my life to religion and to a deity, indeed if people who knew me even ten years ago saw me now I bet they would be very surprised. Where I grew up the unspoken rule was that religion was something very private and not talked about with other people, my family members were either atheist or the sort of Catholic that went to church on Sunday and that was about it; with no one discussing it or seeming excited about it, it was hard for my child self to see what was so important about religion. I knew early on that Catholicism was not for me, that Christianity in general was not for me, and that monotheism didn’t feel right to me, and that was as far as it went for a long time.

I was exposed to Greek mythology first when I was nine, and I absolutely fell in love with those deities in a way that, in hindsight, probably was the start of a religious devotion. It was also then that I became what I like to call an intellectual polytheist (in that, if deity does in fact exist, polytheism makes more sense than monotheism). Had my childhood been quieter and more peaceful, I may very well have pursued that budding interest further and perhaps wound up on this path much sooner.

The notion of service as well was a completely foreign thing to me when I was younger. I am a lone wolf by nature and learned early on that the only person you can really depend on is yourself; I did not bond with my family (and though I get along with them now that I am no longer living them, the distance has made it even more clear that I am, for whatever reason, more of a close family friend than an actual member of the family) and many of the other people I knew at the time didn’t understand me, didn’t like me and were very often cruel to me. I could not have imagined then loving something so much, trusting something enough to want to serve it so completely.

But that was all before I met Hermes.

To say that I owe him my life is no exaggeration. What I was living before was nothing resembling a life and without his intervention I would probably still be there now; that is assuming I was still living at all and I do firmly believe I was rapidly heading down that path. He came to me when I had been beaten down, broken, written off as a lost cause and left to rot wherever I fell; bit by bit he rebuilt my spirit, rebuilt my life, made me feel for the first time that there was something worthwhile there after all, maybe I had something to live for after all.

My life does not look the same as it did even just a couple years ago, and I am noticeably not the same person either. He moved me out of my old life and into a new one that, after an understandably rocky start, turned out to be perfect. I have a home of my own, a wonderful girlfriend, a trio of pets, several friends (even if they are mostly online) and I’m content and I’m happy; as someone who didn’t have many life skills, worse interpersonal skills and never had a word of encouragement from anyone, that’s a lot more than I could have ever hoped to have.

Though it may not be what I started out wanting to do, I can not imagine ever doing anything else, couldn’t imagine not having him in my life. And yet still there are times when I really need to be reminded of that, of why I’m here and how much this really does mean to me.

To say this past year was difficult is an understatement, and the difficulty started with those vows made. It was not a minor step I made there, it was something I knew would fundamentally change our relationship dynamic, and as such it was going to drag a lot of issues to the surface (especially when dealing with an area where I already know I have baggage to spare) and force me to deal with them. I can’t say that I handled that part gracefully, but probably in a typical and understandable way, and probably exactly as he expected me to. My relationship suffered during this last year and I spent long stretches of time feeling cut off from him, cut off from the purpose he gave to me, and that only made it worse. And though I knew, both from moments when he forcibly punched through my walls and messages he sent me through other people, that he still loves me and he’s still here and not going anywhere, it didn’t make things easier or at least never for very long.

I spent a lot of time this last year questioning my path; if this is where I want to be, if this is something I can even do. I don’t know about the second part, but I do know that I want to try, that I’m not ready to give up just yet. After all that Hermes has done for me, all he has given me and everything he has come to mean to me, I owe him my absolute best effort and I know I haven’t given that yet. But even beyond the gratitude, I don’t want this relationship to be over, I don’t want to end it.

Hermes has given me a list of tasks to perform, items to acquire, things to learn; I have a basic daily routine I am supposed to adhere to, and regular times I am supposed to spend with him. This is how I will begin to get my spiritual life, my relationship with him, back on track; this is the first step I have to take before I can progress further. Hermes is not, in my experience, the sort of deity to grab someone by the short hairs and drag them kicking and screaming down the road – trick you into doing what he wants you to do yes, arrange circumstances that forces the issues he wants you to deal with to the surface yes, physically force you no. Especially not in our relationship, in these circumstances this is a decision I need to make on my own; I know what I need to do and he’s waiting for me to make my move all on my own, waiting for me to decide this relationship means enough to me that I’m willing to do the work and deal with the road blocks.

However hard this last year has been, and however much harder its going to get crawling out of this hole and training myself in what I need to be trained in, I still have both reason and desire to continue serving. This is still the path I should and want to be on, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

Hail Hermes! Happy anniversary and thanks for this reminder, I needed it.

Time to Move On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I am no longer a Reconstructionist

What finally brought about the death of my Reconstructionist identity was Hermes himself. He told me it was time to drop the label and take a couple steps back from the community at large (which is not to say I was ever heavily involved beyond list lurking). And since he is really the center of my religious life, what he wants he gets.

That was the final nail in the coffin. Truth be told, this was building for quite some time, perhaps even from the beginning.

I discovered the Recon community after maybe a year or so of reading about Wicca and generic eclectic NeoPaganism and finding it unsatisfying for a variety of reasons. I appreciated the respect people in the Recon community had for studying the ancient traditions, actually respecting the deities as individuals instead of treating them like genies that exist only to do you favors. I signed right up, I thought I had found my home.

One mistake that I made then, and which unfortunately many people still make now (deliberately or not) is thinking its a matter of one or the other; either you are a hard line Reconstructionist or a fluffy eclectic, either you follow tradition to the letter or you do not give a shit at all. This is not even remotely true, its more of a spectrum than two opposing sides, with many different shades and layers in between. Not having ever been a hard line Recon, or even a self identifying Recon at all anymore, does not automatically put me on the side of the fluffy thoughtless eclectics. If that is, in all honesty, what you believe, I suggest you get out there and try interacting with some actual people instead of thinking that you can decide the way the world is without ever having left your tiny corner of it.

There are also, again unfortunately, some very negative and very persistent stereotypes that people on the one side will use to paint the other with wide, careless strokes. It is absolutely not true that all people who identify as Pagans (as opposed to Recons) don’t care about tradition at all, do no studying beyond books found in the New Age section with the little half moon on the spine, and basically do whatever they want because it feels good to them and who cares about the deities involved. Do such people exist? Absolutely, and they are a sadly very vocal segment, but vocal does not equal numbers (in fact, often enough it equals the opposite). I personally know a number of self identifying NeoPagans that are very well read, very devoted to their deities (as opposed to only trying to make themselves feel good)  and are very respectful of tradition whether they choose to follow it to the letter or not (and to be perfectly honest, whether someone wants to replicate tradition exactly or not, I do prefer they at least make their decision from a place of knowledge rather than ignorance). I do know of others who are … well, not so respectful. But to act as though those who are thoughtful and do know what they are doing either don’t exist or are in such an extreme minority that broad brushing the whole faith in this less than flattering picture is perfectly fine is horribly unfair.

And there can be problems in the Recon circles as well. Some have the idea that Reconstructionism is more like a religious reenactment society than an actual living faith, that people mostly just study and analyze and philosophize and talk endlessly but never actually practice, that everyone worships culture more than the gods. And are there people like that in the movement? Oh absolutely. But is that everyone, or even most everyone? Hell no. I have met some incredibly devoted people in this community, and my experiences in it have for the most part been positive.

The stereotypes and generalizations though can be easy enough to buy into, especially if you are new to things and don’t know any better. It can be easy to make the mistake of thinking, “Well, I know I’m not in that camp (whichever you may find more distasteful) so then I guess I must be in this other one.” It can make it harder to let go of labels if you believe, even in the back of your mind, that if you do so you will immediately become that other extreme that you don’t really want to be either.

I was fortunate to have come into the more, some would say moderate segment of the Hellenic Recon community, I wouldn’t brush up against those with far more extreme opinions until much later. Had the lore thumpers been my community I think these problems would have surfaced much earlier, assuming I had even been allowed to have my Recon career in the first place (and I doubt it). But even in the more moderate group, those gaps between where I was and where so many others were became apparent to me very early on. And so the struggle, between where I was finding myself and where I felt I needed to be as someone under a label, began.

Reconstructionism is not a religion, it is a methodology; it is a way to approach religion, to approach tradition. But it is also a community, it is a group of people united in that methodology. Nobody does things all the same, some things will be more important to one person than it will be to another, there are many different interpretations, theories and opinions. Still, there are some themes that do appear to be for the most part community wide, practices or beliefs that most seem to hold as a part of being Reconstructionist. And, for myself anyway, I felt there was a limit to how many of those near constant themes I can diverge from before I have to admit that I am out of line with everyone else.

Practice wise, the differences are not that deep. My rituals are very bare bones, candles and offerings and prayers/hymns and long meditation; I don’t require much in the way of pomp and circumstance, I have found simple works best. When it comes to studying ancient lore and history I consider it a must, if you wish to serve a deity now you do need to know who they were once considered to be, how that service was once done. And although I have no problems with reasonable innovation and UPG (ongoing communication from the gods is what makes this a living faith, after all), sticking to tradition as close as possible should always be the default position when approaching any deity you don’t know; these are offerings/activities they have been known to like in the past, its a reasonable place to begin; now if after the relationship has been established they tell you they want something different that’s fine, but why start out with guess work when someone else has already done the job for you? Keep in mind also I am not one of those people who believes the gods appreciate anything and everything you do for them, I do believe they can be offended, especially by those unwilling to put any real effort into a relationship or show them any consideration as independent beings that exist apart from you.

Its in other areas that I find my path just diverges from others.

1. Many Hellenic Recons believe it is absolutely necessary to worship every deity in the pantheon more or less equally; one person in particular classifies the “worship of the twelve” as an absolute requirement (there are other problems with that statement, but takes us beyond my point). I really don’t believe it is possible to worship all the gods equally, even beyond the issue of patrons there will always be a few you like and connect with more than others. But still, this does seem to be something the vast majority of the community agrees with and observes to the best of their abilities.

I ignored the other deities initially because Hermes was the one dancing for my attention and I felt instinctively that it was important to really establish that primary relationship, so I gave him my full attention. Later on I tried to expand that, I found Dionysos to be friendly enough although far in the background from where Hermes was. But the other deities mostly weren’t there, there were some I found impossible to relate to (as a mostly rootless wanderer, how do I connect with Hestia?), and two told me very clearly to get lost and don’t come back.

I do agree that it is never acceptable to disrespect a god, and I respect all deities for what they are and the place they hold in the world whether its a place that touches me or not. But respect and worship do not necessarily go hand in hand. Just because God X from whatever pantheon likes you is no guarantee his sister Goddess Y is going to feel the same way. And if a deity has repeatedly shown a total lack of interest in you, is it really respectful of them to continue pushing up on them against their obvious wishes?

2. Reconstructionism is, for the most part, modeled on the religion of Joe and Jane Average, and most people in any given religion are going to be general practitioners. The modern Recon community is designed to encourage those who come into it to be general practitioners; the word enforce can always be used for those people who firmly believe this is the only way to be and do not understand that not every person is necessarily supposed to be on the exact same path.

I am more a spiritual specialist, in that my focus is narrowed to one particular field of the human spiritual experience, as opposed to the broader picture. This is not something that I planned on or asked for, I was fine with being a general practitioner, but plans don’t always work out the way you think they will and you can’t always choose your gods. It wasn’t even something I fully realized for a long while, it took time before I started to see the themes and patterns. Some may argue that this is not very balanced, I think that can be debated (for one thing not everyone’s balance is going to look exactly the same), but I do believe it is part of the overall balance to have some people be so focused, it wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t necessary somehow.

Because mindless accusations do get made, let me state for the record: there is absolutely nothing wrong or inferior with being a general practitioner. Before you decide to assume this is all about feeling special with me, I challenge you to find where I ever said that having an “average” devotional life was inferior, or where I ever made anyone feel less than me for not having the same experiences I do.

3. I have contacts in the Norse pantheon as well as the Greeks. Now how offensive or not being dual trad is will depend on who you are talking to, some absolutely deplore the idea while plenty of others have no issues at all. Of course I hesitate to call myself dual trad, as the situation with the Norse deities seems to be shaping up much the same way the Greek gods did: my contacts are with two very specific deities while the rest of the pantheon mostly leaves me alone (although I have been informed Freya thinks I’m cool shit). 🙂

Now here some might throw the eclectic label at me. I can’t stop people from forming their own opinions, but I personally don’t feel the label applies. For one thing, I’m not making my own choices here, these are the being that are coming to me and the others are staying away for whatever the reason, its just the way it is. Though you can choose to believe me on this point or not. Also its hardly a random mishmash system I’m just throwing together, there is nothing random about it. Its all very tightly focused, all very well tied together in any number of ways. Its rather frightening actually.

4. While I do think its agreed upon that understanding ancient culture is important in truly understanding how and why the religion worked a certain way, it may be more debatable how many people actually think adopting the ancient worldview yourself is necessary. Though some think that it is.

I’m not going to pretend that our current culture is perfect, it isn’t, but nor do I hold to some romanticized vision of the past either. News flash, no culture at any point in time has ever been perfect, nothing will ever be perfect so long as people are involved. I am not in ancient Greece, nor do I honestly believe that the worldview would have remained exactly the same more than a thousand years later had the ancient faith survived. Naturally a person’s faith can and will influence their behavior and the way they see the world, but this should be a more organic process and not something dictated to you by others. I have never gotten the impression that my deities want me to reject everything I ever was or believed in in the twenty plus years I was alive before finding them, light it all on fire and automatically adopt someone else’s idea of the world wholesale. My gods prefer me to think for myself, thank you very much.

I’m not overly influenced by the culture that I live in now, I’ve always been pretty far outside the norm and my total lack of desire to fit in and be accepted makes it hard to make a real impression on me. My place in the world is as an outsider serving a liminal god, it wouldn’t make much sense of me to take on the cultural norm of any place or time. Though it doesn’t mean I can’t attempt to understand it intellectually, just like I try to intellectually understand this culture now (so difficult to do).

Many have observed that Hermes seems very at home in our modern world. Indeed there may be many elements to our current culture that are very Hermetic, for better or worse (that will largely depend on who you’re talking to). Though I do agree with this, I also believe that Hermes, being a deity of change, would be able to adapt to just about any culture at all. He has never struck me as being too terribly traditional, and others have had this experience of him as well (though your mileage may vary).

Hermes seems to prefer me to be a free agent, not become overly involved with any specific organization or movement. He wants me free of labels and the constrictions they bring. I got my beginning there, the label pushed me to focus on the studying that I needed to do, and now that I have my grounding it is apparently time to move on. Which is not to say that I ever stop studying, but that it may be time now to broaden focus to include things often left out of the Reconstructionist movement, like mysticism or magic (both things Hermes specializes in, like it or don’t).

I don’t fit in with the Recon movement, though there remains enough similarities that I can still hang in the background on the lists and groups that I was involved with before, I’ve maintained my same contacts through the massive changes I’ve made. I don’t fit in with the NeoPagan movement either. And no, its not up to some arrogant Reconstructionist up on his high horse trying to pin a scarlet “ENP” on everyone he doesn’t like to decide what is NeoPagan and what isn’t; self identifying NeoPagans can decide for themselves who fits in with them and who doesn’t, and they don’t recognize me as one of their own, the differences between me and them are just as great if not greater. Too liberal for the one, too conservative for the other, I find myself somewhere in between. Which is probably perfectly appropriate for me. 😉