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.
In looking back through my childhood (not an easy thing to do), I realize that I had all of the (stereo)typical behaviors of a magician and shamanist in the making. Traumatic events, both explained and unexplained. My brain was wired differently–so differently that I was consistently medicated for it from the age of seven, and reminded of it for every day of my life. I didn’t start actively trying to make friends until college, and even then, I wasn’t very social. I’m still not. As far as practitioners go, I’m very, well…solo.
Though unlike some, I was very underwhelmed when I began reading about magic, paganism and the occult back in my preteen years. It all seemed to describe to me things I knew already, or was already experimenting with. I somehow didn’t seemed too incredibly surprised to find others doing the same, though I was surprised to be able to connect with like-minded individuals who fit that niche. When it came to the occult and the paranormal, the big thing that really surprised me was that a thing like “otherkin” and “therianthropy” existed outside of my own little island of being. The honeymoon period with that, however, is long since over. I no longer actively seek connection between peoples that fit those two descriptors, simply because most of them are merely trying to escape from themselves and the species or world they were born into. I have no commonality with the false, the damaged, and the confused.
It leads me to wonder why I deal with the occult or animistic community at times. I can’t really say I deal with it as much as some–I am virtually inactive on most social fronts aside from my writing. But the patterns I seem to pick out most readily is the glorification of the bullshit artists and “internet shamans” that float around out there. The ones that are glorified for their fanciful storytelling, name-dropping, pity-partying and attention-seeking through their traumas (which, they feel, is an automatic badge for the practice of shamanism). Although they claim to be healers and to (desire to) help others, in the end they help no one but themselves–if you can really call it “help”. The people they surround themselves with are nothing more than yes-men, psychophants and enablers. But amongst these people are those who, I was astonished to find, are actually reasonably intelligent people. It stunned me to think that people who were so smart could be duped by such high school grade behavior. It wasn’t until I read Daniel Pinchbeck’s Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age did I find out that Carlos Castaneda had actually duped a fair amount of professors who even had studied the Yaqui culture. Suppose this thing could happen to someone regardless of intelligence, though it leads me to speculate why, and how. The essay within the book, “Shamans and Charlatans: Assessing Castaneda’s Legacy” is well worth the read and relevant to this part of my rant. In fact, Reality Sandwich has some great essays in general on a variety of topics.
But it’s one of a few reasons why I step back, or remain on the periphery of what people there call “community”. I was never much a social being, which is kind of funny you think, coming from someone who claims strong alliance to canine archetypes. But witnessing this sort of thing is a turnoff towards community. The bullshit artists, the spindoctors. Plenty of people can write books and still be completely incompetent, and just because you’re popular doesn’t always make you right. I’m also a private person, and the extreme freedom by which occultists and shamanists share in gross detail their experiences is beyond me. I hold strongly to the clause, “To keep silent”, or as Christian Sedman in Generation Hex puts it:
We could tell other people straight out, but of course the minute you talk about magic–the shit you’ve turned into gold–is the minute it turns back into shit.
But hey, at this point you’re thinking “Well hey Solo, you do write about magic, right? Yes I do. I love doing so. I want to inspire people, or at least shoot out that signal flare out there that yes, there is someone else out there who isn’t doing this for wholly selfish reasons, or to find some sort of crutch for an inadequate life. Sedman goes on to say:
Sometimes you can write about it. That kind of works. The best thing you can do with something you’ve written about magic, I think, is inspire somebody else enough to try it themselves, so that they can see for themselves.
Even within the paradigm of magic and the animistic, there is so much people aren’t seeing, and it can be frustrating. I try not to waste too much time myself though. I am too constantly involved in the magical and animistic world to always pause enough to write about it or network or “do business”. Or, perhaps it’s too involved in me.
Unless you’re completely stupid, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not Christian. But yet, I have no trouble celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. I don’t celebrate it for the same reason Catholics do–in fact, even before I walked away from the church, the primary gripe in the church was that St. Patty’s day had lost it’s original purpose, instead devolving into a day of decadence and partying.
Then again, even as a kid, I always thought Saint Patrick was a pooper. I mean c’mon. What’s there not to love about serpents? Later on, when I figured out that the serpent-thing was a metaphor, it didn’t really change my opinion of him much.
But really, why all the Pagan outrage?
For one thing, it’s a fact of life that religions subjugate each other all the time. The conquering religion forms a festival around it. Ancient Pagan festivals were rife with that sort of thing. You could argue that St. Patrick’s Day shouldn’t be celebrated because it recognizes the subjugation of one religion over another, but really. Nowadays people who celebrate that holiday aren’t even Christian, let alone Irish. All they care about is luck, shamrocks, green food dye, Irish heritage and Boondock Saints. And really, what’s not to love about that?
On the other hand, I don’t go around yelling at Muslims for celebrating Ramadan, for instance. So, let the Catholics have their holidays. As long as they don’t go out of the way to put a stinker on my festivals, then I’m not too concerned. Of course, one could say they would like to try–but I’m typing from a America-centric perspective here. America is ass-backwards when it comes to quite a lot of things, but in the end, we are relatively free to do as we please. The Religious Right doesn’t just go around trying to ruin a pagan’s good time.
Just the other day, I had someone add me on Twitter who listed “spiritual tolerance” as an interest, and yet updated for the day that she was “Busy pissing the non-pagans off”. How this classified “spiritual tolerance” was beyond me. And yet this is a prime example of quite possibly why we aren’t taken as seriously, and why we need to work on mutual tolerance and respect. My fiancee, who is European, frequently reminds me on how shocked he is that people in this country are allowed to be so openly rude to each other on the basis of religious affiliation. No, I’m not just talking about the Christians here. Everyone.
Now granted, there are religious groups I, quite simply, do not agree with. But for the most part I ignore them, choosing the “live-and-let-live” principle. Unless of course someone openly comes out to harass me or compel me to convert (Jehova’s Witnesses at my door, for example). I don’t busy myself with pissing anyone off simply because I do not agree with their way of thinking. To be honest, I have better ways to spend my time.
This is precisely why I don’t choose to get upset about St. Patrick’s Day. I simply choose to reclaim it for myself–a celebration of my Irish ancestry, good beer, good movies and friendship. I do not agree with the Catholic spin on it, so I simply choose to ignore it, and reroute it for my own uses. When the Catholics celebrate St. Patrick’s Day they aren’t beating us out with sticks or preaching at us–they’re probably at church, waiting for the priest to finish the homily so they can spill out into the bars (well, if they’re Irish at least). Pretty harmless, in my book.
I’m also not saying we shouldn’t forget the past, or what happened. But what you make of it is a choice. People can choose to be offended by it, or people can redirect it and turn it into a celebration. Paganism isn’t one religion but a conglomeration of many religions. If everyone stopped to focus and be offended by every religion that suffered a blow in the past by every other religion, we’d just spend the whole time sitting around being pissed off at each other. Remember the past, but learn from it. Don’t repeat it. Talk to a Catholic friend, get their perspective. Donate your time to a Celtic Reconstructionist group. Know what it is, and why you’re getting passionate about a thing.
Personally, my day was spent running around like a chicken with my head lopped off at work, followed by a fun evening with my fiancee watching the Boondock Saints and listening to the Dropkick Murphys. Good stuff.
I’m backlogged on the things I really want to write about in here. Part of this is being highly engaged with things going on in my life right now (not a bad thing), but also needing to become more disciplined in handling time and other such things. Procrastination happens to be one of my weak points.
It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Today I get to reflect on all the things I’m thankful for–which are a great many things, really. I do consider myself a very wealthy person, even if I do have the occasional moth or two fluttering out of my wallet. Given the way the economy has been, I’m surprised–more like thankful, that it isn’t a swarm. See, when I look around me, and see oh, not the material things, but the emotional, how can I say I’m not? Yes, I’ve got a great many struggles to overcome, but the fact that I seem to be moving forward instead of backward should speak for something, right? I think it does. The material wealth pales in comparison to one’s emotional wealth.
Technoccult posted a good article on the nature of forgiveness which is a good thing to reflect on today. Well, at least for me it is. I won’t deny that I have a habit of holding grudges, and some of the latest work I’ve been doing involves cutting myself free of those grudges, or transmuting them into something else. This is an ongoing process of course, and I will say with no shame that there are some people in my life I will not be able to forgive, that I even have feelings of bitterness or hatred towards. These are normal human emotions that, instead of being confined or denied, should be acknowledged for what they are, and worked through without condescension or shame. Because sometimes “just getting over it” isn’t enough.
In that, I am thankful for the person I am today. Looking back in time at the angry ball of rage I used to be, I’m surprised everyone around me hasn’t flown the coop already. Man did I have some issues. Well, I still do. But I guess it depends on what and how I choose to transmute those issues into. If life gives you lemons, you can either make lemonade or squirt it into your enemy’s eye, but whatever you do, never content yourself with just sucking on bitter juice.
On that note, I’m going to gorge myself on food. For all those reading who live in the States and/or celebrate Thanksgiving, hope your day is a plentiful and peaceful one.