Today is Veteran’s Day. Right now my old man is away on vacation. In February he enters into his fourth deployment, this time to Iraq (the others were Afghanistan, but before that he’s traveled to Qatar and a variety of other places). This year is going to be strange for the whole family, but above all else I worry for my dad.
Telling someone “Happy Veteran’s Day” has always seemed queer for me. Vets have gone through a lot of shit. They’ve also taken a lot of shit. Sometimes this day isn’t happy for them. Many times, it’s just bad reminders, dug up by people who haven’t quite had the experiences they’ve had. As opposed to wishing anyone a “happy Veteran’s Day” I tend to just do something else. Buy my old man a cake or something. Donate to an organization that helps veterans and deployed. Or both. Something. Action means a lot. There are other ways to honor veterans today than just wishing them a “happy Veteran’s Day”. Well, I also think Veterans Day and Memorial Day shouldn’t be the only days we remember our veterans and war dead. I’ll probably write more on this later. I tend to have to address this particular topic in stages.
Also yes I’m revisiting this topic again, from my last post. I think I’ve come on a bit strong (which I don’t apologize for) and have not done a very good job (in my opinion) of explaining my position properly. I’m not here to say that every pagan gathering or what have you is wrong. That would be incorrect. Public ritual and celebration is an important aspect of any spiritual practice or religion. However–and I think this was the point I was trying to make before–I feel there is a decided difference between that particular thing (which is well and good) and spiritual exhibitionism. Or, to put it more succinctly, a nice hardy ego circle-jerk, using gods and spirits as an excuse for such. You must also remember that this is being written by someone with a notorious habit for misanthropy. I admit this may be a detriment for me at times.
And on that note, the halftime show is over, and so I must sign off for now. There is more I wanted to write on, but that will have to wait for another time.
You know, I’m not big on the Internet. I much prefer doing what I normally do, aside from work: hike through the woods, clean animal heads, go fossil-hunting, hang out with a couple close friends of mine. Above all else–communicate with my spirits and my gods. They take up a huge amount of time. My presence on the Internet takes last place. My Divine Employers keep me very, very busy. This weekend, I have wood to clear in the back, altar-spaces to set up. I have to go on my yearly cleanup-walk along the powerline-trail behind my house. I have a long and very close relationship with the land-spirits in my area. They’ve protected me when I was a child. I’ve grown with them, even suffered with them.
Cultivating an active relationship with land-spirits, be it nymphs, daemons, landvaettir, yokai, or whatever you wish to call them as pertinent to your tradition, are a very important part of my spiritual practice. They should be of anyone’s. Personally, I don’t think you can be a proper spirit-worker without that sort of thing (hoisting the “strong opinion flag” here!). You can even do it in the dead middle of the city. They exist there, too. Anyone who claims they don’t aren’t looking hard enough, or just not paying attention. I’ve cultivated some very strong bonds with land-spirits smack in the middle of cities, both here and abroad in Germany (I’m partial to Hamburg and Frankfurt myself).
However, when I do long online and bother to go onto some of these websites with pagan writings, I see some writings on this and similar topics and scratch my head. It makes me wonder if the pagans writing these things actually get outside and do anything in nature, other than step out their front doors and leave the prerequisite human offerings (food and a libation). Now, leaving offerings is all well and good–I do that as well. But here now we get into the “orthopraxy” versus “orthodoxy” thing. I hear a lot of talk about what people believe, but really, what the fuck do you do? How do you put those beliefs into action?
I notice too a lot of those pagans who talk much about what they believe and not what they do are notorious at anthropomorphizing spirits of nature and the land. Why? Because they don’t take the effort to get up close and dirty with it. Really learn lessons from it. They’ll pray, and they’ll leave offerings, and they’ll donate money, but they won’t do much beyond that. Leaving the comfort of civilization is a bit too much for them, but it’s the only way to really get up close and personal, the only way to really understand the truly wild spirits that are out there in nature.
Pagans always come at the attitude of Nature as the ultimate victim, and we humans as the primary aggressors. They fail to realize that Nature and nature-spirits can be cruel, random, selfish (both towards us as well as within itself–within other nature spirits), and even stupid at times. Just as I complain that so many spirit-workers and pagans will only believe in spirits and the gods until it comes to a point where it is no longer convenient or comfortable for them to do so, so does this also work in the reverse–that Pagans and spirit-workers will resort to religious fun-duh-mentalism when rationalism and/or science becomes too uncomfortable for them (like the idea that Nature/nature-spirits aren’t omipotent, omniscient, or equally destructive to and within itself. I mean think about it, humans are a part of nature, too).
It’s also best to actually…get out. And get to know the land-spirits, before making lofty claims about what they want, need, or even think. The sheer number of pagans who will harp on this, but hardly leave their computers and comfortable homes to actually experience this for themselves, astounds me.
Thankfully, there are a small number of folk out there who do get out. They pour their sweat and blood into the land. They live with the spirits in the land every day in mutual cooperation. Their stories inspire me. There are those who go out into the wilds to learn and love and worship. I encourage this. This needs to happen more often. This is where true fellowship, true cooperation and, above all else, true understanding, can occur.
So it’s early morning, and it is Memorial Day. I also have a hangover, and a neck injury (don’t ask). But I figured if there was any day I needed to tie up any loose ends on this topic here, it would be today.
First off, I don’t always have time to individually respond to all comments posted to this blog. The needs of gods, spirits and men–and dead critters–keep me occupied much of the time, and the internet largely takes a backseat. But I do approve all comments, even dissenting ones.
Secondly, while I’m on the topic of Pagans who Get Shit Done (see my last post on highlighting nifty polytheists), Erynn was one of the commenters in my last post, and she had some good things to say that people should consider. I was going to use this post to respond to some other comments, but she already beat me to the punch on a couple issues. She is a disabled veteran and activist in a number of different areas including feminism and veterans issues, so look her up sometime.
Anyway, jumping straight to the meat and bones of the post–something I’m going to touch on very briefly but something I should have mentioned in my first post. Patron Deities. In fact, I’ll just break it down simply.
Having a Patron who is a Warrior Deity does not make you a warrior. It doesn’t make you a warrior anymore than being the son or daughter of a plumber makes you a damn plumber. You can stare at your dad’s asscrack all day long as he works, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to unclog a damn toilet unless you go to school and make the necessary steps to become a plumber. My dad is a veteran, so are both my grandfathers, several uncles, a couple friends, and some people I have volunteered for. I am not a warrior. At best I can be classed the damn water-boy. Even warrior deities need more than just warriors amongst their mortal crew.
Recently I was reading a book written by someone who was calling themselves a warrior (had a Warrior Deity as a Patron, of course), when, to the best of my knowledge, they had not listed military service amongst their many religious and temporal credentials. This isn’t the first time I read such a thing, and every time I do it’s like nails on a damn blackboard to me. When people claim a title which isn’t theirs, it disrespects the people who rightfully earned that title. In my case, it disrespects the many people I know who have earned and sacrificed for that title.
Especially on this day, we should remember the people who are the true warriors, who have made the ultimate sacrifice. If we as Pagans and Polytheists want to harp on at length about “honor” and “duty”, perhaps we need to reflect today on those who really put their money where their mouth is. Who took that ultimate step. If honor goes anywhere, at least on this day, it is to them.
I’m beginning to wonder if there is really no way for me to discuss this without coming off as sounding extremely biased and opinionated. But either way, this is something that has been building in my craw for awhile. You must forgive that this is going to be a touch disjointed, and rambling. You have been warned.
I notice many Pagans talk a big game about things like ‘honor’, ‘duty’ and the ‘warrior path’. But that’s all I seem to notice, a lot of the time (but not ALL the time and I’ll get to that in a moment). A whole lot of talk, and very little action. You see, it’s so easy to sit in front of a computer, in relative comfort and safety, and speak these things, when you don’t have to worry too much about having to back them up. People within the (various different sectors of) the Pagan “community”(ies) are very eager to point the finger at so-called “sheeple” within the perceived evil machine of monotheism, and yet they themselves are so easily led by flowery platitudes, emotional pleas, hive mindsets, cults of personality (especially if you write a book–newsflash folks–any idiot can write a book these days), and talks of things such as ‘honor’, ‘duty’ and the ‘warrior path’. Here are, if I may, a few thoughts for you to consider:
–The ‘warrior path’ isn’t about owning a sword (most swords which modern Pagans own are, nine times out of ten, display pieces and would serve as bludgeoning weapons at best) and swinging it around prettily. It isn’t about owning a gun, either (and if you do own a gun, you should have the proper licenses, training, psychological and physical conditioning to operate and keep one properly). It isn’t about going to train at your martial arts dojo and getting kicked around by your sensei–if you think that’s the warrior path, you still have never tasted it (but trust me, I know–during Krav Maga practice I was screamed at, punched, kicked and urged on until I almost vomited and passed out. It is brutal, but not the same thing.). What IS the warrior path? Volunteer for the USO. Sign up for organizations like Soldier’s Angels. You’ll see. Those of us who have parents in the military know. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my father fly away on that C130, and had to (attempt to) mentally prepare myself for the horrible possibility that he may come home in a fucking box. And no, you don’t have to be in the military or be a veteran to walk the warrior’s path. You don’t even have to be in the Coast Guard, or police or fire (or related service duties). There are others who experience that path on the liminal spheres of society (which may actually be unacceptable to many people, including a lot of other pagans). But, to those of you who glorify the “warrior’s path” while sitting safely at the soft glow of your computers–I ask why. I myself have never gone to war, but I’ve experienced having to fight, having to defend myself. Having been frequently stoned, beaten and hazed when I was younger, I had no choice. And it’s a terrifying sensation. It stays with you forever. There is a price you pay for that sort of thing. There always is.
–When it comes to “honor” and “duty” that shit tends to walk hand-in-hand. I have no damn right to speak of either of those. I am a very frail, very flawed, very misguided human being very frequently. I can only say that I have had the honor and privilege to serve and assist those who have themselves served with great duty and honor. One of them was a Heathen, Odin’s man and devotee of Freyja. He was the first soldier I worked with through SA (who arbitrarily assigns you your soldier, by the by). He had served several tours of duty, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. I cannot say much more about him without violating a code of privacy, but he has seen many things. He leaves his beloved family behind each time to do what he feels is right, despite how much he may disagree with others. I have saved every letter he’s written me during his tour of duty. We lost contact after he came back home to his family. Most people don’t realize this, but a warrior’s battle doesn’t end after the tour of duty does. It never does. Even still, I’ve saved all his letters. Whenever I want a reminder of what “honor” and “duty” is, I pull out his letters, saved on my Patron’s altar, and I read them. Or, perhaps most importantly, I go to my father, an OEF (Afghanistan) veteran twice over. Even since childhood, he was integral in my lessons of what it is to have integrity, the wellspring of things that honor and duty feed from. These himself he learned from his father, a WWII veteran of the Pacific arena. My Grandfather on my mother’s side is a WWII veteran of the European arena. I have many great teachers in this area, though I myself am horribly incomplete just the same. I cannot begin to reach their level or understand what they have been through. I can only hope to grow to be a solid man with good integrity.
In the meantime, I figured something like this needed to be said. I’m not much a fan of baah’ing with the emotionally overenthused masses when it comes to such things. I think so many neopagans and related are very sheltered, or deliberately shelter themselves from the realities going on around them, which is why things like this is something they feel can easily be put on like some kind of roleplaying device. The same can be said for the role of “shaman”, another hotbutton issue, and one I’ll likely be addressing at a later time.
Thankfully though, not all of modern Paganism has my cynicism jacked up. I have had the privilege of seeing a great amount of awesomeness in the area of spiritwork, community service, and activism come out of some really awesome polytheists. Rather than go on another long-winded rant, I hope to showcase them here individually as I get this blog kicking and rolling again.