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.

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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.

Spiritual Writing

One thing Hermes has always been good at is making sure I get the information I need when I need it (whether or not I actually recognize it as being vital information at the time I get it is a whole other matter). Just as I’m sitting around figuring out how to begin working to regain the ground I lost over this last year, I see this post from Naiadis on her excellent blog (seriously check it out).

What in particular about that post jumped out at me like a divine slap to the back of the head, was where she talked about how writing played a part in her relationship with Poseidon, in meditation and awareness and in her interactions with him.

I am grateful that these things occur to someone, because it certainly never occurred to me.

Receptivity is not something that comes easily to me; despite what you may have heard around Pagan circles about women being receptive in nature and men being projective (and let’s not get me started on that), I am predominately projective maybe somewhere around seventy percent. What receptivity I do have is further complicated by the lingering effects of the survival methods I had to use to get through an abusive childhood, severing and walling off most of the connections I had to anything outside of myself. Naturally Hermes can punch through those walls when he wants to, or else I would not be here now. And I can achieve a state of openness and awareness when I concentrate on it, turning my usual focused attention outside of myself. And this was fine in the beginning, but I know he expects more of me now, something a little more consistent, in order to progress our relationship and the Work. And that means I have to work through these blocks and move past this hurdle.

Browsing around Pagan sites and forums you will find a lot of suggestions on meditation, on opening up and achieving awareness. A lot of them though do not seem to work for me, go against the way my brain processes things. As an example, many of these more popular techniques are geared toward more visual thinkers, and I am more verbally oriented I think in words (I have found a way to make visual techniques work for me, but it involves using a running dialog in my head to paint the picture I’m supposed to see, it all starts with language). While I might be able to move up to the more common techniques in time, first I need to learn something that works with my brain’s natural inclinations.

Oddly, I have never thought of writing as a means to open awareness to things outside of yourself. And the more I contemplate that, the less I understand why it never occurred to me before. Lost in trying to follow other people’s lead, I seemed to have missed the obvious for such a long time.

Writing has always been something that was important to me. Since I was three or four I was constantly making up elaborate stories, and from the time I learned how to write I was committing those rambling tales to paper. When I was a teenager that intensified as my writing was my only escape from what was going on around me. It was always so easy for me to get lost in my work, the hours go by unnoticed, the rest of the world slips away, just me alone with my thoughts that increasingly stop feeling like my own and start feeling like something outside of myself that’s flowing through me, using me as a conduit. It’s amazing what comes out of my head during these sessions, very rarely looking anything like what I originally intended and which sometimes contains layers of meaning it might take me months to see.

And isn’t that exactly what I’m looking for? Isn’t that what the meditation and visualizations are ultimately supposed to achieve, something very close to what I can easily fall into just from having a writing project to be involved in?

Writing has also played an important part in my religious life and my interaction with Hermes, although it was very early on and I think I may not attribute the proper amount of credit to that experience any longer. Who knows why, since every time someone calls me by name I’m reminded of it.

No, Gavin is not the name that I was born with, but one given to me by Hermes and that I took when I made my vows to him. It is my Pagan name, or at least one of them, one I can use in all aspects of my life. Its not an alias I use on the internet, everyone I know now calls me Gavin and most everyone I have met since those vows were made have no idea my name was ever anything different. I have plans at some point in the future to have it legally changed, since the name I was born with (which only my immediate family still uses) feels even less like my own than it did before.

The name itself came from an epic rambling story I was working on for about five years, during the period of my life that I didn’t leave the house and was trying to figure out how to function again. I began working on it maybe a year or so before Hermes officially made his presence known to me, and it pretty much consumed my life at the time; I would get up and do nothing but work on it, eventually coming out of my fog long enough to remember that I have to eat and then right back to it again. Eventually Hermes helped me to see what I was really doing there, aside from fine tuning my ability to write sadistic violence (what? you didn’t expect rainbows and kittens, did you? ;-)), was writing about myself.

After learning that I put the project down, having no more need to work on it. I had gained a lot of insight into myself during that time, into what exactly had happened to me during my childhood and the impact that it had, how it altered the way I thought and behaved. And having a better understanding of what makes me tick, I was able to begin accepting things and learned how to function within my means rather than using the more common model of behavior. Without the knowledge I gained from that experience, I’m not sure I would have been able to move forward with my life.

I did not immediately connect Hermes to the project, since I had started it before I ever met him and this was before I fully realized just how interested in me he really was. Not until he moved in and ordered a complete remodeling of my life; in addition to requesting my vows and telling me I had to move out of my mother’s house, he gave me a new name, the one I used for that character I unknowingly saddled with all my problems and giving him a way out. Out of curiosity, I had grabbed up one of my sister’s baby names books and looked up the meaning of the name that had been given to me, which I thought I had invented years earlier.

That one name referenced an animal sacred to Hermes was a bit of a surprise, but by itself could still seem like a coincidence. The my new last name was, in essence, an epithet of his seemed like less of a coincidence – and as the years went by, as things changed (or were revealed to me more like it), that fact has gained multiple layers of meaning I never could have seen coming then.

This was my inital introduction to the world of Hermetic Meaningful Coincidence, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time he brought about a change like that, quietly pulling my strings and moving things into position until I become accustomed to things enough that we can bring it up directly, plus the months or years of set up help to erase any doubt that the message is a genuine one.

I haven’t done much writing in the last several years, I fell out of the habit when my depression got too bad to continue it, which of course only made the depression worse. For the last little while I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that, about how even when life was at its absolute worst writing was a small bit of happiness that I was able to hold on to, that made things at least somewhat bearable. And while my life is certainly good now, there still seems to be something missing, a hole (or a severed connection?) that my writing once filled which simply can’t be filled with anything else. Writing, it seems, is one of the things I need to be doing in order to be happy and fulfilled and functioning correctly.

My parents, who simply didn’t understand my hobby, used to hang over my shoulder and wonder aloud whether or not I planned to ever do anything with my writing, because if I can’t ever publish and profit off my work then what was the point of it? Unfortunately I think some of that thinking might have rubbed off on me and may have contributed to my putting down the pen for such a long time. Normally I don’t buy into that unfortunately popular notion that it you can’t make money off it it’s not worth doing, and yet I allowed that to get in the way here. I think it was largely do to with lack of encouragement from family, and the people who spent so much effort directly attacking my habit because they didn’t like what I wrote (that it wasn’t all rainbows and kittens), it left me deeply insecure about my talent. In other areas I’m able to ignore or at least work through the negative feedback loop that runs through my head, but this is also the one area where I actually do care what other people think and so it’s a lot harder to overcome years of constant criticism and apathy even if I knew people had alternate motives for saying the things they did. I wouldn’t have the confidence to send anything off to a publisher, so why do it at all then, right?

Now I realize that doesn’t matter. I won’t lie, it would make me exceedingly happy and fulfill my only real childhood dream to get my work published, but making money off something is not the end all to be all, whatever our current culture might think. Writing made me happy, and it connected me to something outside of myself, and that is important, far more important than making money (having grown up around people trapped in careers that made them miserable, I learned first hand money isn’t everything). Even if I end up keeping my work entirely to myself, it will still have been worth my effort in creating it, it will still have served a purpose.

Writers write, that’s what they do and there is no use trying to deny it. I’m tired of feeling like there is something missing in my life, and I’m tired of struggling to open up using methods that don’t work with my brain wiring. With this now in my head, I think I may be able to kill two birds with one stone.

I’ve wanted to begin writing again for a while now, but struggled over where exactly I was supposed to start. I think I’ll take Naiadis’s suggestion and use it as a spiritual tool, a meditative practice and a means to connect again with Hermes. Do again what makes me happy, get my relationships back in order.

And so thank you, both to Naiadis who shared this and to Hermes who probably made certain that I saw it. Who knows how much longer I might have sat with this solution right in front of my face before I saw it on my own.

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.

Destruction of Labels: Spiritual Crisis part one

As I am now ready to officially restart my blog (one new page, two rewritten, may be a good idea to check them out), I think my first new post should be something expanding on some of the problems that I have been having that have kept me away from the Internet for so long. Starting with the issue of labels.

As I have said in previous posts and in my information pages, I at one time, not long ago, considered myself a Hellenic Reconstructionist and that I have since stopped using that label. Exactly why, and what went into that decision I will explain in more detail in a future post, because I would not want anyone to get any number of wrong ideas based off of that. For the moment, it is enough to say that the destruction of spiritual labels, one I held for the entirety of my religious career and also the fact that I have not been able to find an adequate label to replace it, affected me more strongly than I may have at first thought. It made up one part of my current, slowly fading spiritual crisis.

Now, why would the loss of a particular label affect me so strongly? Its likely not for the reason that you may be thinking.

For many, labels are a tool that they use to define who they are, both to themselves and, I’d say more importantly, to the rest of the world. Its a sense of identity, and a sense of belonging in a particular group of others who share that identity. For that reason alone, humans being in general social creatures who function best within a community structure, labels hold a place of powerful importance in their lives. The loss of that label, and the sense of identity that goes with it, a devastating blow to one’s psyche.

For me though, much of this just simply does not imply. I am one of those exceptions that prove the rule in that I am not for the most part a social creature, I am not community oriented (note that does not mean anti community, but again this should probably be a post in and of itself) and I function best being mostly solitary interacting with communities when necessary (indeed sometime it is necessary) from the position of an outsider. As such, my relationship with labels is different than it is for many other people, as a means to define myself they are neither useful nor really needed. I’m not looking for catchphrases I can use to describe myself to others, to see if I belong in their club or not; for personal use I do not need them, I’m perfectly content to just let myself be and not worry about what to call it (a good thing because I don’t fit neatly and honestly into most any solid category).

I never fit perfectly into the Hellenic Recon box either, and thus I often qualified it by calling myself a “liberal Recon” and freely explaining that I may not do A, B or C that many other people seem to do. I connected more with certain individuals within the community as opposed to the community as a whole, people that for the most part I doubt are going to turn their backs on me merely for the loss of a label (mostly because they got to know me beyond mere labels). Anyone that would stop talking to me just because of that, well, to be perfectly frank, if your concern for me is based entirely around what I choose to call myself then you likely weren’t important enough to me to miss.

As a matter of identity and group identity, labels matter little to me, its loss made no real impact. Thinking only on this level, I didn’t consider it to be a problem. And yet, there is was, growing the longer I went without finding something new to call myself.

Labels, particularly religious labels, serve another purpose besides group identity. They are a way to define the world around you, to try and make sense out of a senseless mess. Its a way to create boundaries, decide what’s important and what’s irrelevant to you, what you can expect to happen and what never will, who are your allies and who is … well, if not an enemy outright at least not a friend. Established religious traditions come with a map of the terrain, offer you a place of shelter where things make sense and you pretty much know what is around the next corner and there is always someone there with who can guide and support you.

The thing of it is, these maps, these boundaries, are artificial. Laid out by people; inspired people perhaps, but it still doesn’t make their image an absolutely true and universal one. The world operates under its own rules, and that includes the spiritual world; people’s understanding of these rules, and their many exceptions, is far from complete. The world does not care how you think things should be, and though most people can go through life safely inside their walls, some of us for whatever reason get to find out the hard way just how fragile those walls really are.

This crisis really started for me when Odin and Loki entered my life very suddenly, at Hermes’s invitation and remained with his approval. Being a Hellenic Reconstructionist gave me no context in which something like this could happen, but instead told me that it doesn’t. Furthermore, it tells me that such a scenario is not a good idea.

While a soft polytheist would declare that the gods I made contact with are really one and the same as Hermes (this is a view point I never agreed with instinctively and this experience proved it as far as I am concerned; Hermes, Odin and Loki all have a great deal in common and a lot of over lapping areas of concern, but there is also a great deal of differences there, and those differences can and do effect the way the god comes through to you, the feel of their presence, their personality, on those levels they are most definitely not the same)  and Hellenism does have plenty of that, hard polytheists might argue it doesn’t happen. The Greek gods are the Greek gods, the Norse are the Norse, and there is a firm line between them that is just never crossed.

I will not argue that the Greek gods are a family in and of themselves, and the Norse deities are their own series of tribes. I agree that work generally occurs within the family. But the notion that the different tribes of gods are not aware of each other, that they have never interact with each other, it doesn’t strike me as terribly logical and, judging from my experiences and those of others, its not the case at all.

Just because a god from one particular pantheon initiates a relationship with you, is not to say that deities from other pantheons are never going to come around (likewise, just because a deity from a particular pantheon likes you is not the say all the others gods from that pantheon will feel the same way, but that’s a whole other issue). But specific traditions, especially cultural tradtions, do not generally address this; don’t introduce you to the possibility, don’t tell you what you should do when and if it does come up (now it seems logical to me that ignoring a god’s call for no other reason than because they come from a different pantheon is not a wise move, but just because its logical to me is not to say that it will occur to everyone).

Even more confusing for my Reconstructionist background is not just that a new pantheon had shown up, but that my patron had invited them over. And though I initially tried to keep worship very separate, I kept feeling a very strong sense of disapproval whenever I did. The message I kept getting was that this careful and deliberate separation is really not very necessary. This runs completely counter to everything I learned in my time in Recon circles, which says pantheons must never be mixed, that this is always a bad idea.

I want to state very clearly here, that I am not in any way endorsing the sort of irresponsible eclecticism that runs rampant in some Pagan circles. Research should always be done, cultural differences and divine preferences respected. And there is a very good reason why that no mixing pantheons rule is there, and why it should always be the default position. The good thing about having myths is that it shows you how deities generally interact with each other, how well they get along; so you know, for example, calling Loki and Heimdall into the same ritual space would be a spectacularly bad idea. These myths do not exist cross culturally, and thus its not known how these two personalities might interact if I call them together. Just because two deities may govern similar things is no guarantee. I would say in fact, unless they themselves tell you its okay, separation is the way to go.

In my circumstances, I was told its not a problem; though in practice I often don’t call more than one god in a ritual at a time because I find it easier to focus on one, though they do all share space in the temple room with no ill result. I had run the situation past several people personally involved with at least one if not two deities from the group, none of whom had problems with the conclusions I came to. The gods in my group were all travelers used to dealing with strangers, boundary gods that blur lines, tricksters that don’t pay attention to rules, the idea that they would interact outside their pantheons and all get along with each other was not impossible to believe in fact it almost seemed to make sense.  Though I was glad to have my UPG confirmed by others whose opinions I respected, accepting that UPG, which ran right in the face of things I have been taught before, was probably the first step in my losing my connection to my religious label and the well ordered safe haven that came with it. By making me a spiritual specialist focused on liminalty (whereas Reconstructionism is designed to encourage everyone to become general practitioners), by insisting on certain other vows and other practices, Hermes hammered away whatever was left of that connection before ordering me to drop the label altogether.

Leaving religious labels behind is like being left standing alone in the middle of a vast, uncharted wasteland; you don’t know where you are, where you need to go, who you might meet along the way. And there is something very freeing in this, which I’m now at a point that I can begin to fully appreciate; but its also a little frightening to admit that the walls you thought protected you do not actually exist, that the map you are holding is of some place you’ve never been to. I don’t have a path laid out before me, I don’t have access to clear cut answers about what I should do, and I have no idea what might be coming next. Its an intimidating position to be placed in.

It is helpful to know other people in similar circumstances, never the exact same but similar; I am not the only person who was so rudely ripped out of more comfortable surroundings. No, I’m not completely crazy, not as far as this is concerned. There is no one single correct way to worship the gods, what they ask of one or even most people they may not ask of everyone. Reconstructionist faiths are mostly designed to reflect the religion of Joe and Jane Average, and there is nothing wrong with that, but its also not where all of us are meant to be. Tradition remains important, and my studying of ancient cultures and incoporating what I can has not changed, my relationship with tradition is not as all encompassing as some have it, and in certain areas of my spiritual life I am very much on my own.