Kicking the Hornet’s Nest

I spend a great deal of time poking at hidden things.  I open cans of worms; I kick hornet’s nests; I turn over rocks to see what lies wriggling underneath.  And, I ask questions – tons and tons of questions, sometimes to the dismay of my colleagues, and my family, and my friends.  I hold the flashlight and shine it right into the face of things that are more comfortable in darkness, in the secret places where they cannot be examined.

Some of this is innate – I am a curious person, and examining something from every conceivable angle until I *know* it fills me with the kind of ecstasy most ascribe to moments of a more…intimate nature.   And, don’t get me wrong – I enjoy sex as much as anyone, and perhaps more than many…but the perfect blend of the emotional and the physical that so many of my loved ones ascribe to it is, for me, found in that first perfect moment when I truly understand something new.

This, as one might assume, means that I am sometimes extremely difficult to be around.  When active avoidance of a topic is the MO, I have to deliberately focus to not only not see the elephant in the room, but also keep from asking it questions about how it got onto the elevator.

It also means, though, that I am a Very Useful Tool, and that some of the Powers That Be have a vested interest in keeping me in good repair.  My boss at my day job, for example, knows I will dig deeply into anything he asks me to investigate and bring back every single piece of information available.  My boss’ boss, the head of Quality Assurance for our company, has come to welcome me greeting him with, “I opened another can.”  They both know, as does anyone who works with me, that I will worry a thing until it breaks open and reveals its creamy center, and that benefits almost everyone involved.

Mmmmmm….creamy center….*drools*

Outside of my day job, I remain a Very Useful Tool.  This thing I do, this poking, and prodding, and questioning, and untangling, brought me the attention of the netjeru before I knew that they were available to me as more than a list of Names in a book of mythology.  It brought me Work to Do that was ecstatic and transformative, but wrapped to make it seem smaller and less critical than it turned out to be.  It is the primary way I uphold ma’at, the concept that is so critical to Kemetic practice.  It is integral to my FlameKeeping work – the Dark Flame Wayfinder guides through the nebulous so the seeker can see the infinite potential(s) waiting for them.  It forms the foundation of my web work – how can I know what to untangle and what to leave in place if I don’t ask the question, or at least get right up against the threads to trace where they are connected?

To ask, to kick, to nudge, to pry – these are not without consequences.  For every piece of knowledge gained, for every insight, there is something better left unknown, or untouched.  My head is filled with things I’d rather forget but cannot, and I’m reminded of some platitude about being unable to put knowledge back where it belongs.  Once opened, a box can never return to its unopened state…but then again, I’ve always found Pandora to be a kindred spirit, and wasn’t Hope at the bottom of that box anyway?

I am the one who Questions, and I have no regrets.  The reward is worth a thousand stings.

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Cloverleaf and Roundabout

Like last year, this year I got to Paganicon via a road-trip, and while I didn’t happen to see The Rider on my journey, I did unravel a piece of the web that I’ve been staring at for what feels like ages but has probably been around six months.

But I should probably back up a bit, and explain a couple of things before diving down the hole in front of me and urging you to follow, shouldn’t I?

2015 was a horrible year for many people, and for me it was filled with family tensions, work tensions, and religious community tensions that eventually drove me to leave the place I considered my religious home for six years.  And, after all that, came the time of No Computers, and I was driven to seeking out those I wanted to stay close to via Google Hangouts from my work laptop in between doing the things that comprise my day job, which is heavy on pointless meetings with people I don’t want to hear, much less see.

(Okay – done with the self-pity now.  I swear.)

At the time of the upheaval (last October, or therabouts), I was staring at a problem I’d been tasked to address – the untangling of a particular set of threads in the Web in front of me.  Staring wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I couldn’t figure out where I need to start, and then things blew up and I put the task aside where it sat.

And sat.

And sat, until I was smacked in the head by a not-so-velvet paw and reminded that the tangle was still there.  And, that I hadn’t said “No” when I was asked to deal with it.  And that it was going to stay right there until I figured it out.

I like to put my gods in the category of “tough but fair”, but they don’t always like to stay in that category.  This time, though, everyone took on that label, and everyone reminded me that there was a THING that needed DOING, over and over again until I finally decided to get off my ass and look at it again.  Which, I did.  I looked at it.  I walked around it, and looked at it from a number of angles, and tugged on a few things, and pushed a few more, and then sat down and stared at it again.

And then, I took a 21 hour (round trip) road-trip with my sister, and we talked the whole way.  Sometimes it was serious, and sometimes it was silly, and sometimes it would have made no sense at all to anyone listening in, but it was in the talking on the way there, and in Paganicon itself, and in the further talking on the way home that I figured it out and the threads unwound themselves as prettily as anyone could hope to see…and now they’re connecting just as they should.

It took two things, really: the realization that I am very very good at asking questions, and that the sigil I created in Thorn’s workshop is meant to remind me to Speak Up.  And once I connected those two things everything else fell neatly into place.  I am not meant to be a Hammer – I am meant to be a Lever.  I am meant to move things from passive to active.  What once I called a cul-de-sac, a parking lot, where we stop and wait and try to figure out which way to go is now a cloverleaf, or a roundabout, with exits that are there.   We’re just waking up and wondering where we are, how we got here, and why we’re in a hand-basket.

This, then, is the Introduction.

The End and the Beginning

I’ve not been writing much of late.

This is not because I don’t want to write; I do, very much.  It’s not because I don’t like the topics I’ve been choosing; I’ve been having a grand time with my pop culture paganism series, even if no one really reads it.  And it’s not because this blog doesn’t fit me anymore; now, more than ever, I find myself bumping into things along my religious path that I want to pick apart and examine here.

The actual reason behind my lack of posting here is complicated, but there is a teal deer version: I stopped posting for The Cauldron Blog Project while trying to sort out whether The Cauldron was still right for me, and after a few weeks and months of both introspection and conversation with some of the members of my religious community (and friends), I decided that it was no longer a good fit.  And so, I’ve resigned as part of the Staff at TC, and I have also left as a member.

The Cauldron has been a huge part of my religious life since early 2010: it was there that I feel I really came into my own as a Kemetic; it was there that I discovered and embraced FlameKeeping; it was there, among the other members, that I refined my own personal practice into something that nurtures and fulfills me.  For those things, not to mention the number of friends I made, I will always be grateful.  But, as people change and grow, their needs changes and mine no longer align with what The Cauldron can provide.

So, this is the end of the TC chapter of my life, but it is also a beginning.  It’s the beginning of a new re-examination period for me, looking at who I am and who I want to be.  It’s the beginning of a new section of road on my religious path.  It’s a chance to start anew and figure out new ways to put together all the bits and pieces, and new ways to poke at them, because the life un-examined is a stagnant life…and you all know how I feel about stagnation.

To those I met on TC, you are a part of who I am, and I will never forget you.  To those joining me with Beginnings of their own, I can’t think of any friends or companions I’d rather have.

Thank you, for everything.

The Elder Scrolls – Peryite

Often viewed as the weakest of the Daedric Princes despite often appearing as a dragon, Peryite oversees the lower planes of Oblivion and keeps order among the low-ranking daedra.  Men and mer know him as the Lord of Pestilence and the Taskmaster, and his spheres of influence cover both those things along with “natural order”.

Peryite is known as having impacting most of the mortals of Nirn, albeit indirectly, since many plagues and pestilences originate with him.  In addition, the “natural order” of Peryite and his followers appears to differ from the “order” imposed by Jyggalag, and also from “order” as mortals understand it.  This leads me to steer away from talking about the concept of “natural order” in this particular post, and more toward what I consider the inherent duality of Peryite.

I am often fascinated with duality (those who know me are thinking, “Really???  I had NO idea.”), and Peryite pleases me in that one overseeing pestilence is also one who can remove it.  The Disease and the Cure, if you will; one hand gives, and the other takes away.  In truth, Peryite’s followers are often afflicted with one disease or another and consider their condition to be a gift rather than a curse…which leads me down a mental path of wondering about wallowing in the Wretched to find the Divine.

I am a Kemetic, and a FlameKeeper, and also working on mindfulness practice – in all of these, the idea that one must recognize and acknowledge reality is key.  Couple this with the tenet, from FlameKeeping, that everything is Divine (you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe) and things begin to get interesting – reality is Divine.  And if reality is Divine, then those things that exist within reality are Divine by default.  This belief must be held by the followers of Peryite, or else why worship the Taskmaster in the first place?  And if held by them, this pinpoints something we have in common, for I am hard pressed to think of anything that is not Divine.

(Actions are, of course, another story.)

For those looking to worship Peryite, incense is a traditional offering (and there is a traditional type that is nigh impossible to make outside of Tamriel).  I suspect, though, that the Lord of Pestilence might be pleased with an acknowledgement of the pitfalls we all face, how they fit into the larger the Divine, and Peryite’s place in that scheme.

Impulse Control

For someone whose mind is occupied with as many things as mine is, I actually have excellent impulse control.  This is demonstrated by all of the socially unacceptable thoughts I have that I’ve not acted on.  For example, I’ve not had sex in my workplace, or set a building on fire, or told the CEO of my old company what I think of him.  I’ve also not yet cut my brother’s brakes so he careens down a hill and then dies.  Of course, this could be due to the fact that I’ve not been alone with his car.

Then again, I also don’t know where the brake lines are or how to cut them.

I jest, to a point.  I don’t consider myself a murderer despite having thoughts to the contrary, but I also don’t live in a world where my thoughts are made manifest.  If I did, impulse control would have an entirely different meaning and perhaps we’d end up like people out of Harrison Bergeron from sheer necessity.  Okay, yeah.  Not sure where I was going with that last bit, to be honest.  Anyway, my thoughts, like those of all human beings, can be quite random and unexpected, and I (mostly) don’t act on the ones that show up out of the blue or that I deem unwise.  It’s the mostly that counts there, I think; all human beings are going to end up doing some things they later regret, and some of those things derive from impulse.

So, why the fuck am I writing about this stuff on my religious blog?  Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about random thoughts and impulses and how we as humans control what we do, when we do, and I decided to try and take a look at it from a FlameKeeping perspective.  This included talking to Genevieve Wood, founder of FlameKeeping, to get her opinion on the topic.  Once she stopped laughing and referred me to Skippy’s List (specifically, number 87), she noted that impulse is reaction rather than action, and that “impulse should be run through the filter of “is this a bad idea” before acted upon.

Now, what I think is a bad idea may (and almost certainly does!) differ from what you consider a bad idea…but I think that’s the point, really.  Regardless of what society as a whole may put forth as optimal (in)action, everyone’s experience of life is different and, except on rare occasion, each individual should be able to determine what is a bad idea from their own point of view.  Sometimes that aligns with what society says, and sometimes it doesn’t, but that alignment isn’t a meter stick – to measure someone up against societal norms alone is to ignore the larger picture.

I’m rambling again, aren’t I?

Here’s the thing – controlling my impulses might make my own life smoother, but it doesn’t make me a better person than someone who doesn’t control them or can’t control them.  I am not a good person based on the fact that I haven’t cut my brother’s brakes; there’s a lot more desire not to spend time in prison than there is benevolence.

We are all Divine – you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe (ESPECIALLY my left shoe!).  That Divinity is not erased when we give in to our impulses, nor is it bolstered when we control them.  Relax, take a breath, and run your impulse through your personal filter…and if it looks good, leap.

Falderal

At times, it’s all I can do to embrace my connections with others while ignoring the falderal that accompanies it.

As a human being surrounded by other human beings on most occasions, it is inevitable that I’ll be exposed to a certain amount of human behavior that is just baffling.  Some of this behavior might fit most people’s definition of nonsensical  (an adult pirouetting in Starbucks while waiting for coffee, for example), but a lot of it simply doesn’t make sense to me, and it makes me wonder if it is the behavior that is unusual or my perception of it.

We’re all blessed with unique perspective, since no two human beings are exactly alike, and so there’s a certain amount of play in the idea of what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t.  For example, if we take dining in a restaurant as an example situation, I am relatively certain that running up to the table of a stranger and removing all of their cutlery is unacceptable behavior.  But, in that same restaurant, is it acceptable for a child to run around the restaurant rather than staying at the table with whoever brought them?  Some would say yes, and others would say no.  It’s a matter of perception; if I allow my own children to do that thing, then it is likely to be acceptable to me if other people allow their children to do the same thing.  If I don’t allow such things, then it is more likely I will find such behavior appalling and be baffled at the idea that someone thinks this is okay.

It gets tricky, for me anyway, when looking at things that society as a whole deems acceptable that I just don’t get.  To take what I think is a good example: marriage in the United States contains an expectation that the people entering the marriage will behave as if they have no romantic love for anyone but their spouse, no physical attraction for anyone but their spouse, and no desire to form relationships that go beyond the platonic friend stage with anyone but their spouse.  Those who do not behave in this fashion are called “immoral”, “unethical”, “cheaters”, and many other things because they deviate from the societal norm.  But, while I understand that society has built up expectations of how married people behave, those expectations baffle me.  I cannot imagine turning off my feelings and attractions to other people simply because society expects me to, and thankfully my spouse is of like mind (if he weren’t, we probably wouldn’t be married now).

(Now, I should probably say at this point that I do think lying about such things is inappropriate.  Someone who agrees to do one thing but does another is a liar, and that’s what makes it cheating.  Anyway.)

My position on relationships between people has led to some interesting situations in my day-to-day life.  I can’t watch a television show that has a “love triangle” plot without ranting about how the person in the center of the triangle should just admit how they feel and try and work things out with the other two.  If I am attracted to someone who is in a relationship with someone else, I tend to ask about the openness of that relationship, thereby exposing myself as non-monogamous.  This baffles other people at times, and yet I am baffled at their bafflement…and around and around we go.

Here’s another one: there’s a child in one of my swimming classes, a four-year-old boy who, when choosing a toy, always picks one that is pink, or purple, or has sparkles on it.  He’s a bright child, and is really enjoying his swimming lessons, and I didn’t even think about his toy choices until his mother approached me after a class and mentioned that her son’s toy choices didn’t mean he was gay.  I am sure the expression on my face conveyed my confusion, because she further explained that he was the youngest of four children, and the others were girls, and so it was natural that he would want to play with their toys…

WTF?  This person was concerned that I might read something into her child’s behavior, that I might think her four-year-old was gay because he likes to play with pink and purple ducks in the pool.  I was flabbergasted that she felt the need to say anything, but of course I reassured her that I hadn’t read anything into his behavior and that, in my class, everyone gets to choose the toy they want.  She walked away happy, and I stood there stunned because the idea that someone would expect a preschooler to adhere to gender stereotypes, and then comment on them, is baffling to me.  It’s falderal – it makes NO SENSE to me.

It’s easy enough to be myself, to be open and honest, when I’m in situations where it makes things better.  In the case of the swimming lessons above, it was an easy thing to reassure the mother than I wasn’t thinking anything about her son based on his choice of duck, and go on when life…but when it is my own behavior that is causing bafflement, it gets trickier.  When I see that I am brushing up against societal norms and cultural mores, when I see I am making others uncomfortable, I end up torn in two directions.  On the one hand, I want to rail and shout and explain that I am a decent person despite their bafflement, and that it is our differences that make humans so interesting, and that everything I do is consensual and it doesn’t affect them anyway!  On the other hand, well, I have to live in society and things work better if I am not marked for ostracism.  So, almost inevitably, I end up pulling back and behaving in ways that are way outside my own norms to please others…and it fucking sucks not to be myself.

So, why am I writing about this, especially over here on a religious blog?  Well, I’m a FlameKeeper, and as a FlameKeeper I am always looking for connections, for the things that tie us to other pieces of the Divine and to the Universe.  And, behavior is a pretty big connection between people; we’re joined by our behavior preferences, by things we do and do not do, by what we think is appropriate and what we think is inappropriate.  The trouble is, we’re also connected to the people who do not behave like us, and those people are not going away despite our wishes to the contrary.  There will always be someone on the other side of the debate: for every person who identifies as pro-choice, there is a person who identifies as pro-life.  For every liberal, there is a conservative.  For every theist, there’s an atheist.  For every gamer, there’s someone who thinks video games are a waste of time.  But, we’re connected to those people, the ones who disagree with us on a fundamental level, the ones who behave totally unlike us.

We are all Divine – you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe (especially my LEFT SHOE).  The connections between us are there, even when we pretend they aren’t, even when we let the falderal get in the way of recognizing them.  The trick is to see past the nonsense to the essential, to see the spark and what radiates from it, and then nourish those connections.  Through this, we improve ourselves, and thus the Universe.

The Importance of Being Earnest

I’m behind in The Cauldron Blog Project again, and so I am trying to catch up by writing several posts at once.  This…is not an easy task, as I’ve been trying to stick to a theme of pop culture paganism this year focusing on The Elder Scrolls, and while the series itself is named with an E, there are no deities in any of the games that also begin with E.  And, did I mention that there are 87 total deities in that series?  Anyway, now I have to write two posts with the theme of E, and since Paganicon 2015 is winding down and I happen to be in a hotel in Minnesota after attending it, I started trying to think of things that came up during ‘Con that I could address.  Which led me to something I saw a lot of this weekend: earnestness.

It’s not easy to be earnest, especially when surrounded by others whose beliefs are different than yours, but the majority of people I met at Paganicon 2015 did it with aplomb.  They, as the definition goes, showed depth and sincerity of feeling for their path(s) and practices, and were happy to share what they thought without stomping on the toes of anyone else.  Or, if someone was mistakenly stomped, they were happy to apologize in a way that did not lay blame on the other person.

I find the earnest fascinating, mostly because my own inclination is to be, well, not-so-earnest in public.  That’s not to say that I hide my beliefs, exactly, or that I am not serious about anything, but I am more likely to hide myself from strangers.  I like to be camouflaged to a certain extent – to keep my counsel unless it’s asked for, to put on an outward face that resembles what people expect to see in a given situation.  In the case of Paganicon, I’ve been pretty successful so far – I wear what I consider to be ordinary clothing (usually jeans and t-shirts), wear simple devotional jewelry, keep my hair in a basic style, and offer opinions among those I don’t know only when it is appropriate.

I’m completely different among my friends, of course – I am outspoken and forthcoming about what I believe and what I don’t.  I don’t know if I’d call it being earnest, though.  I can be serious, and I certainly hold serious beliefs and do serious things, but the word earnest has connotations to it that I don’t think are characteristics of myself, and I also don’t think it is one of those words worth reclaiming or slapping with the Words Mean Things label.

(Wow – I never thought I’d say that.  Maybe I need to regroup.)

But, anyway, the earnest are fascinating to me because they neither hold anything back, nor try to laugh away their intensity.  They’re committed to their path and practices in ways that I admire, and have sometimes wished I could emulate…and it makes for interesting conversation.  I always learn something from the earnest, and since learning new things is one of my joys in life, I welcome spending time with those who have this trait even though I know it is likely I’ll never be quite like them.

After all, differences are what make the world go ’round, and that’s a good thing.