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.

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.

Gyromancy

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to do was spin around in a circle until I fell over dizzy.  I’d go outdoors on a sunny day, find a spot in my yard, and spin and spin until I couldn’t stay standing and toppled over into the grass.

(I also used to roll down the hill in our front yard, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Anyway, the idea of doing such a thing now makes me nauseous – in addition to my equilibrium changing after I had my son, I also have benign positional vertigo (BPV) which means I sometimes get dizzy and fall over for no reason at all.  Spinning in a circle until I fall over is now off the table, as is going on any amusement ride that spins and watching any movie that uses shaky cam as a thing.  But, I was amused to discover that my childhood spinning actually had a use that I didn’t know about – divination.  I’m referring to gyromancy.

Gyromancy is the practice of divination by circles or rounds, and there are a couple of well-known methods:

  • A person, or a group of people, spin or dance in circles until they become dizzy enough to fall on the ground.  At that point, everything that is said by the ones on the ground is recorded, and then those recorded words are interpreted for potential meaning.
  • A person, or a group of people, stand within a circle that is bordered by letters or symbols.  At the appropriate time, the person or group walks around the inside of the circle repeatedly until they grow dizzy enough to fall on the ground.  At that point, the position of the people on the ground in relation to the letters/symbols is noted and interpreted for meaning.

Both of the methods above sometimes involved the person or group of people getting up once they fell and repeating their actions until they couldn’t stand again or, as reported in Occult Sciences: A Compendium of Transcendental Doctrine and Experiment: “…till he evolved an intelligible sentence, or till death or madness intervened.”

Ummm, yeah.

Another method, and one I hadn’t heard of before researching for this post, uses a nicked or marked coin – the coin is spun within a circle of letters, and words are spelt out by where the nick or mark lands when the coin falls over.  I think I like this method best as it doesn’t involve me spinning in circles and then spewing.  Although, that might be another method – spin the person and interpret meaning based on where the discharge lands?

(Okay, forget I suggested that.  EW.)

Since I started pondering gyromancy, I’ve had a picture in my head of someone practicing it at a day care facility, at random, based on spinning pre-schoolers.  I mean, they will spin on their own – why not make some use of it by giving them soft mats marked with letters to use as a base?  I don’t know how accurate it would be, but it might make for a good experiment provided that no one actually spun the children; the children would need to spin on their own, of course.

Clearly, I am getting silly.  Sillier than usual, anyway.

I don’t currently know anyone who practices gyromancy, much like I didn’t (and still don’t!) know anyone who practices tyromancy.  If you do either, I’d be really interested to know your how and your why, and whether you think harnessing the power of small children is worthwhile.  After all, a day when I learn something new is a good day!

Today is a good day.

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.

Zygosis

“Everything is part of everything.  Pass the soup.”Katie Waitman, The Merro Tree

I believe in connections, in the links between things – nouns, especially.  Take any person, place, or thing, and the connections to any other person, place, or thing can be discovered if one is inclined to look.  Of course, many of us are not, as is evidenced by events currently playing out all over the world.  We live on a small planet, really – an island home surrounded by the vastness of the universe – and yet we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Lest this sound too terribly depressing, it gets worse: how many times each day do you look at the people you interact with each day and think about your similarities as opposed to your differences?  Do you look at the person you sit next to at work and think about how they enjoy crème brûlée as much as you, or do you focus on the fact that they clear their throat every other sentence?  Do you notice that the people around you on the highway also have a crappy commute, or are you too busy noticing that they cut you off?  Do you remember that there are people just like you who cannot have the same things you do because they look differently, or have a different job, or went to a different school, or practice a different religion?

I don’t mean to scold most of you, because you realize that focusing on differences rather than similarities is alienating and yet it is what nearly every piece of society is organized to do.   You know something has to change for the bullshit that is our separation from one another to cease…but pinpointing it isn’t easy, and after all, you’re just one person, right?  Right?

And here I am, not wanting to be preachy but ending up there anyway because I’m pissed off.  I’m pissed off that there are people out there who are hungry, who don’t have shelter, who can’t get an education, who have to be afraid of law enforcement.  I’m pissed off that there are other people out there who justify these things when there is no justification.  I’m pissed off that I feel like I shouldn’t have a dog in this fight because of my privilege…but I can’t just sit and say nothing.  I’m pissed off that I feel like a bad ally because I don’t know what to do to fix things except beat my head against everyone around me until they get it.

My religious work is full of practices that honor connections, and I believe in them, and that we’re all Divine…and if we’re all Divine then there’s no fucking excuse for treating human beings as anything other than human beings.

Period.

End of story.

YOLO

Whether you agree with the accuracy of the statement “you only live once” or not, the meaning behind it is clear: make the most of what you do, and live life to the fullest.  For me, as a FlameKeeper and a Kemetic, that means doing the following things:

  1. Living ma’at as best I can.
  2. Recognizing that we are all Divine* and acting accordingly.
  3. Taking responsibility for my mistakes (aka owning my shit).
  4. Trying, in future action, not to repeat the mistakes I’ve made.

Not very glamorous, I admit, and hardly the fodder to post on Twitter under a hashtag.  In fact, when I did a little exploring (something I think you should do, at least once) of the hashtag YOLO (#YOLO) on Twitter, few seemed to be using it the way I do.  People tag some amazing things with #YOLO – for every affirmation of friendship, or child’s first step, or road trip, there’s drunken Christmas caroling, and law-breaking, and -ist** comments.  All of this is…well, you know what?  It’s not my place to tell other humans not under my direct supervision what to do or how to do it unless they ask me for an opinion.  And, no one has.  So, I’ll give you a couple of cents on the topic and let you draw your own conclusions.

My religious path requires action in place of stagnancy, choice in place of passive-aggressiveness, and moving forward in place of looking back.  I am much less concerned with what happens after I die than I am what happens in life.  These things are piety in my practice – I am a pious person despite not doing the things that traditionalists would imagine because I adhere to the need to act, and choose, and move forward.  YOLO, for me, fits right into that – I make a choice and follow-through and, if it backfires or goes horribly askew, I acknowledge it, regroup, and move on.

Now my choices and backfires aren’t nearly as adrenaline pumping as, say, a civilian pulling over a police officer, but they’re still the result of action.  I’m not sitting back and watching things happen around me; I’m precipitating them.  And that, I think, is really the point of YOLO: take that leap and make something happen in this life rather than waiting for the next.  Life’s too short for regrets, even if you believe that we get more than one.

(Maybe the thrill seekers are on to something, after all.)