You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.

Until last night I had taken about a two-week break from posting.  The break was due to two reasons.  First, it was Spring Break at the University and I was taking advantage of staying at home and tending to things on the farm.  Second, I wanted to reflect on the past six weeks and all of the events that have taken place. I must say that it has been an interesting road.

Navigating the media, meeting individuals finding the courage to come out, and working through the processes of “settling” into an already established spiritual community has been interesting.  I’ve met a great diversity of people throughout the weeks and have to admit that, while at times trying, it has over all been a positive experience.  Questions about Paganism have been raised by others, I’ve asked questions regarding other faith traditions.  This after all is the goal: to learn about others in order to understand what we have in common (the intent of the heart) is greater than our differences (practices, mythologies, and belief structures).  Has the time lead to unanswered questions and questions that haven’t been asked yet?  Absolutely.  But the positive is that people are beginning to talk about who and what we are.

Has it all been smooth?  No, but that is okay, confusion creates a space that allows discussion to take place.  When we talk we begin to see others in different light and allow ourselves to be introduced to new ideas.  It doesn’t mean that we need to accept those new ideas, but as with the Tower card, once lightning  illuminates the darkness our perspectives are changed permanently.  We can no longer move through the darkness not knowing what is out there. We have been exposed to what lies across the field, if even for only a moment, and therefore our world has been permanently changed.  Change can be painful, most people resist it, but it is inevitable.  So, as I move forward through Spring and into Summer I also will change, my perspective with be expanded and hopefully the future will give me the same gifts of enlightenment as the last six weeks have.

Over the course of the past few weeks something has been nagging at me.  In fact it is something that I have noticed over the last few years.  Pagans in education are not talking to one another very effectively.  In fact, unless they know each other through some other venue such as a festival, mutual friends, or the like, pagans in education don’t necessarily talk to each other at all.  I am as guilty as the rest – I talk to my friends and I haven’t talked much about what I have been doing over the last nine years at the University.  I want to change that. I want to connect pagans in education and I want to talk about what we do.  Or maybe what we don’t do.

I’ve created a LinkedIn group “Pagans in Education” and invite any staff member, administrator, or faculty member working in an educational institution to join.  I initially thought only about post high school people, but I’ve changed that thought.  I want all of us to start talking.  There is so much that we can do as a group to begin dispelling the stereotypes that surround our faith traditions, to create safe spaces for individuals and groups to practice, and most importantly to give students and parents resources to turn to in our halls of education.  So please, if you are in the educational field or know someone who is and are pagan or pagan friendly, join the group and lets begin the conversation.  If you don’t have a LinkedIn account you can sign up at http://www.linkedin.com.

Hate, Tolerance, Acceptance – three words that are difficult to talk about; three words that need to be talked about.  They are intimately connected to each other, creating a path that many people walk while creating barriers that others can never get over.  When I decided to take the position of Chaplain at Syracuse University I knew that I would encounter all three of these emotions.  That is what they are – emotions. Emotions embedded in action. 

I knew there would be those who would hate that Pagans are allowed to be on campus, hate that Pagans are given equal recognition as their religion, hate that Pagans are not forced back underground, hate that we are allowed to practice spirituality in our own way with our own deities.  They would rather that we not exist or be forced to their truth regarding god.

I knew there would be those that would speak of tolerance.  They “would not care” what we did as long as we didn’t bother them.  If Pagans want to practice their beliefs on campus it would be okay, we would just be oddities for everyone else to write papers about.  We would be the “unfamiliar” religion that the anthropology students want to observer and the journalism students want to film.  I wonder how many of them would consider it rude or odd if the religion that they practice were treated as primitive, practiced by “natives” that had only been recently discovered by “enlightened” individuals?

I knew there would be a few that would accept Pagans with open arms.  They will look at the beauty of a diverse community of spirituality.  They will understand that while we approach our relationship with deity differently that we all seek the same thing –enlightenment of the soul and connection with spirit. They will smile and possibly join in when invited to participate in the rituals of others regardless of how different that may be from their own.  Secure in their spiritual growth, they have no need to reinforce their beliefs through the eradication of other faith traditions; rather they rejoice that so many can find their path to deity in its many diverse forms.

It is a long road to travel from hate to acceptance but it is one that we must walk.  It is only by travelling it ourselves can we show others the way.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be resistance. There will be people who have no desire to move out of their bigotry, holding onto it as long as possible.  Their hatred is familiar, like an old friend and they see no need to give it up.  It has served them well. I feel for them.  How much do they miss by not allowing themselves new ideas and attitudes?  They miss out on the diversity of this world and all that it has to offer.  They don’t understand that giving up their hatred doesn’t mean giving up their faith; in fact they may find that opening their minds would enhance it.

For those that tolerate I would have them consider this:  who wants to be tolerated?  No one.  Tolerate is a terrible word and yet one we are taught to strive for. The very word speaks of a hierarchy of power.  It implies that one group is superior to another, tolerating a group because it has to. Tolerance doesn’t remove prejudice, but it can create a space for dialog.  Dialog leads to education, and education is the key to moving out of hatred, through tolerance and into acceptance. This is where we want to be.

Dialog and education bring with it the ability to understand others.  When we understand what people and their practices are about we often find that our preconceived notions were wrong. Our hate was born out of fear – fear of the unknown.  If we open our hearts and our minds to new ideas and thoughts it is very likely we will find that our fear disappears and we can move into acceptance of others. 

I suppose that would be my goal for all of us regardless of our faith.  Recognize the fear that causes hate, try to be tolerant in order to begin to understand, and in the end embrace others for what we have in common rather than concentrate only on our differences.

To comfort and to teach is what I believe we are all meant to do. 

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with two different people: first the daughter-in-law of my friend who recently passed and then a student of mine.  It was an afternoon of remembrance.  Remembrance of old times, old knowledge, and feelings.  It was also a time for discovery, because during the course of the day I discovered things about myself as well.

It has been four weeks since Teresa has passed and during that time I have been busy – busy doing “things”, paperwork, and stuff to get the business of life in order.  When she passed decisions needed to be made on a business level on how to reallocate the work for the organizations she was involved with.  That work has completed.  When I sat and talked with her daughter-in-law I found a mirror across from me.  She is young and dealing with the business of comforting her husband through this time.  She takes care of the paperwork and “stuff” of life left behind when some one passes – the water company, the electric, the cable.  All turned off; final bills paid.  For two hours we talked and comforted each other, laughing about life and how we kept busy in order to not deal with death.  A pagan and a christian, each respectful of the other’s beliefs, sitting together and understanding that what matters most at moments like this is one human spirit connecting with another, understanding through tears, laughter, and silence that in time all will be right again. 

After Stacy left my student and friend spent the rest of the afternoon with me.  It was an interesting conversation that we had revolving around her studies in paganism, the craft, and her spiritual growth.  No, this is not a student from the University.  She is someone I have known for a while who is also a good friend.  I knew that this time would be a new beginning for the two of us.  I just wasn’t sure where that beginning would take us.  We had started down the path of learning about a year or more ago.  She had done what was necessary to ask me to teach her – to take her on as a student.  At that time I gave her a few instructions and began to see how she would work through the assignments.  They were frustrating to her, she told me so, but she completed them.  We circled together, we laughed and cried together, and in the end she had spent a year (or so) with me without much in formal training.  So here we sat at a table in the bar of a restaurant.  We ordered drinks and ate popcorn.  I think told her that I had some questions for her before we continued.  Those questions were:

1. Have you learned anything over the last year since we began?

2. What is it you want to learn?

3. Do you still want me as a teacher?

This last year, disjointed as it might have seemed to everyone else, was a necessary part of her preparation.  Was she willing to do the things I asked, could she discover nuggets of enlightenment on her own, did she understand that not all teaching comes from formal lecture, and was she willing to open herself up to trust a teacher?  There were preconceived ideas of what “teaching” and “learning” are that needed to be broken down so that growth could take place.  Yes, she had learned a great deal this last year.  So had I; I learned what a great friend she is and what a beautiful soul she has.

We skipped the second question for the moment to address whether or not she still wanted me to be her teacher.  Yes, I was still the one she wanted to learn from, but the question had surprised her.  I knew that it would.  I reminded her that when we started this venture I had told her that we would spend time in a “trial period” and would revisit my role when that was over.  This was a necessary question because after the year her needs and desires might have changed and I might have decided we were not a good fit.  The year was the time to evaluate how well we could learn from each other.  Yes, learn from each other.  The best teacher will learn from their students different perspectives on old subjects.  She has taught me much this last year.  She remembered the conversation and yes, I knew that I was the one to teach her.

We then went to the question of what she wanted to learn.  The discussion was, and will remain, private.  In the end she will learn a great deal that will carry her forward on her path.  That path is not mine, I already know that.  I can teach her a great deal but I cannot teach nor give her a path to follow.  What I can do is teach her how to discover her own path and in my opinion that is the greatest lesson to learn – self discovery.

Last night was fun.  We did tarot/divination… kinda.  More importantly community came together.  In the pagan world that is important because we don’t necessarily always know how to do that.  There aren’t covens, groves, circles, mounds, groups, or anything else listed in the yellow pages or the “religion” section of the news paper. 

We have been cautious about who knows about us – in a sense we allow ourselves to become invisible spiritually to the rest of the world.  Many of us have been afraid of what exposure of our practices to the world would bring.  You know what I’m talking about… the whispers behind our backs, the fingers pointing, the chuckle under the breath, the outright laughter to our faces.  How could we be so foolish as to believe what we do.  Then there is the other reaction – fear.  Fear manifests itself in many ways: the friend who no longer calls, the loss of work hours from your employer, the religious material in your mail, the accusations and turned backs by people you don’t even know, a family who no longer claims you as one of their own.  This can all happen; it has happened to more than one pagan, and so we seek community.

Call it the Pagan Pig Out, pagan movie night, or whatever, we need to get together on occasion outside of ritual.  As human beings we need to have interaction with others without feeling that we will be judged for our beliefs.  So we do little things like hold a “crash course in divination” at a local pub where anyone can join in.  Yes, that is exactly what we did last night and it was fun.  More than that it shows pagans in the area that there are establishments that do not fear losing customers because they allow pagans to gather at their place.  An event like last night was more than just coming together, it was people (pagan and non-pagan alike) openly participating together in a perceived pagan practice – divination.  There was no going to the back room, there was no whispering of words.  There was laughter of a good kind.

The students gathered an hour earlier than the announced start time so that we could go over some basic rules.  This was intuitive reading at its best and they are all beginners.  The hardest part of my job is to give the boost necessary to get them started.  When an hour had passed pagans from the local community began to arrive.  They were there to be the test subjects, the volunteers agreeing to have their cards, runes, or whatever read.  They ate, they drank and they conversed with each other enjoying the atmosphere of the place.  But then a funny thing happened, non-pagans filtered in “Can I get a reading too?”  We were seen, there was no fear, and we were being joined.  Our community just got bigger and it didn’t have to be pagans only any more.

The walls between groups began to come down. I always love it when those barriers to acceptance begin to crumble.  I explained to all there that the students were beginners so to have patience if they seemed a bit slow doing their readings.  The feed back that I received from all who came, even those that happened to stumble upon us, was positive.  A small venture into the community at large was a success.  Pagans openly exposed in a public place were not met with rejection or ridicule.  Rather, we were met with curiosity that led to a positive interaction. 

Little ventures out.  Some may not think that much of anything to write about, but maybe it is the smaller adventures that we need right now.  Who knows, once you add up all the small adventures you will find that you have rewritten the old story that we have all worked with and in its place created a new epic journey where small adventures are common place for us all.

How many times have I thought about how little room I have for all my books?  Almost constantly to tell the truth, I’m a book buyer/reader/keeper.  I love the written text.  This last week I cataloged a gift of books that came to the students – 265 books on the craft.  What a windfall!  But then the challenge; where do they go?  I don’t have a book shelf at the moment. I thought this was an easy issue, I just need to get a bookshelf and after talking with the Chapel staff that is not a problem.  And then I had a conversation with an individual that made me think long and hard about what I considered “an issue”.

What if you could only have 20 books?  My husband and I were visiting an inmate, Frank, at Collins Correctional Facility in Collins, New York.  We had brought him a book and left it with the guards to be checked through the appropriate mail/package room.  It would be delivered to him later for his personal library.  In our conversation of the day I told him the gift of books that had been received and explained that I would send him a list the titles. It was my thought that if there was something he was interested in I could simply mail him the book. It was at that point that he explained that he was limited to owning 20 books.  I asked if we sent him one “on loan” to be mailed back would that be okay.  It is. Now, it isn’t that I’m advocating for an increase in the amount of books that inmates are allowed to own; that isn’t my point.  My point is, what if I could only own 20 books, which 20 would I keep?

I think just about every pagan I know has an extensive library.  We keep our 101 books, our favorite books, our not so favorite books, our books of shadows, our journals, our pages and pages of print outs, and anything else we can get our hands on.  I myself am as guilty as the next person and so, I now look at my books a little differently.  Which would be the ones that I would need to keep forever and which ones would become the transient possession that I pass on in order to make room for new information and perspective?  Would Scott Cunningham be among those kept?  How about the Frosts or Farrars?  Would I keep only those that are of a craft nature or would I expand and place other religious texts, mythology, or fiction on the shelf?  I can honestly say I don’t know what I had to do if this were the case.  And so I sit and think… again, which ones.

Franz Bardon would be among my permanent collection; Blacksun would be as well. My shelf would include one beginner book, a tarot book, a book on the Kabbalah, a book of the myths and stories, my own book of shadows and then what?  The rest would be transient.  I can’t emphasis enough the importance of continually educating the self, to explore new and different ideas.  You never know what you may learn.  So I think it would come down to making sure I always stay connected to the beginnings of my path so that I can teach those that come behind me while still exploring my own spirituality and expanding my own knowledge and skill.  By connecting the past with the future we move forward without forgetting who and what we are.

So tell me, what would you keep?  Do you know?

%d bloggers like this: