Friday, June 16, 2017

Pulse and peace

It rained again that day, same as a year prior. We sat in the car, if for pause in the central Florida thunderstorms that are as common as clockwork in mid June. It was full dark evening as heavy raindrops pelted the windshield. We had finally come to Pulse, just shy of a year after the shooting.

I remember when I heard of it, at the Morrigan’s Call retreat last year. I knew the club, I worked for years a few blocks away. I ate at the donut and bagel shops across the street. I had cried when I heard about it, because I knew my town would never be the same.

Orlando has a unique relationship to its gay community; being driven by entertainment, has always welcomed them. I remember volunteering at the Pride parade the first year I lived here, and absolutely enjoying myself. I was as straight as they come, but I understood that this town, in its own unique way, treasured the outsiders and nonconformists. And I chuckle to think one could attend a gay pride parade and a gun show in the same weekend and not be the least bit confused. That's O town. Rainbows and rednecks.

And generally, we all get along because, well, most of us are outsiders. Few are native, most are transplants. Even me, born and raised in Florida, am not native to Orlando, but I have the spirit that fits well here. Part rainbow, part redneck.

We get out of the car during a pause in the rain, and see the cop in the unmarked car watching over the building and makeshift memorial. We walk among the items let behind on the fence: candles, posters, flowers. And names of the dead written everywhere. On posts, parking spaces, pieces of wall and fence. There are a couple of women huddled under an umbrella talking quietly, so we move to an area away from them. This was private work.
For weeks we have been doing a practice of going to historic battlefields and invoking the Morrigan through the Peace Prophecy. Our goal has been to ask for peace, to end the strife, calm the souls of the dead and remember them, to help cleanse the blood soaked earth and restore it. And it has been good work, but this was a place of fresh and raw blood and violence and sadness. This was going to be hard.

My partner began:

Sith co nem
Nem co doman…
Peace as high as the sky,
Sky to earth,
Earth to sky. ..

I swam in images, smells of gun smoke and blood, people huddled on a piss-stained floor, sounds of grown men's voices yelling. The acrid smell of fear and desperation and sweat.

And the chant went on…

Banished are sad outcries….

To each face that turned up to me in my mind I said “Sith Co nem”, may you know peace. I held the soil in my fingers, sticky from rain and blood, and struggled in my mind to hold my rage at the injustice done here in check. May there be peace….

My thoughts shifted to the three weeks I volunteered nights at the makeshift memorial downtown. Somebody had to keep the rain off it and the location provided plastic sheeting. I pulled alongside some office executive in heels and pearls, and alongside some college kids. We relit the candles after we dumped out rainwater. Muddy to the knees. Orlando protects its gay community, and we did that for their memory.

The first thing I placed on the memorial was a crow’s feather. For the dead.

Hundreds of people showed up from all over the country. Comfort dogs from Minnesota, signs from across the country. I watched an Asian man drop to his knees and formally bow nine times before the memorial, then stand up and bury his face in his partner’s shoulder and sob.

I was offered bottles of water regularly and food frequently, but politely declined. Most visitors I saw looked in silence as the outpouring of stuff got bigger and bigger and bigger

healthy under antler-points
destructive battle cries held back.

One Saturday the Westboro Baptist Church came to protest a funeral of one of the victims, and I wasn’t going to stand for it. So I made a sign that was on black poster board and read a very simple message “Respect and honor the dead”. The three WBC people practically melted in the June Florida heat and humidity, but were scared off by about 2000 counter demonstrators, of all shapes and colors. Including me, dressed in black, not chanting about love or rainbows or angels. Dressed in black, holding my stark sign, quietly. Because, after all, it was a funeral.

I then walked the three blocks back to the memorial and left my sign there. The only thing that was black without rainbows, but it was honest to my feelings.

It never mattered to me that they were gay, they were human beings slaughtered. Innocents. I didn't feel much like rainbows. I felt fucking angry about WBC.

One schmuck started ranting about assault weapons stuff. I usually get pretty hot about this, but instead calmly asked if it was his practice to use the dead to promote a political agenda, or was this a special occasion. He wandered off, I guess realizing he'd overstepped.

Not on the backs of the dead.

Be it a strong, beautiful wood, long-lasting a great boundary
'Have you a story?'
Peace to sky
be it so lasting to the ninth Generation

We poured out the small bottle of burbon we use for offerings to the Queen, and inside I wonder how a land like this could ever be at peace. My small ritual? Two devotees to the Great Queen against this kind of horror is not even a drop in the bucket, yet….it’s a start.

The stories of the dead are retold every year because it helps the living cope and heal.
I wonder if that's best for the dead and tell my partner, and she thinks about it.  We need to honor and remember the dead, but we also need to let them go. We've spend a year as a community calling out the names of the dead. Its like trying to leave a room but hearing someone call your name constantly, the dead look back, we keep them here to some extent as we mourn. And I think honoring them and asking for peace feels right, the only thing to do to both honor them and let them rest.  We drive home through the rain, a 10 minute ride.  I watch one raindrop, and doubt that one drop, one ritual, one offering, one invocation can wash away so much blood and pain.

But then I remember, this rain was what broke the worst drought in the state’s history. Put out wildfires everywhere, and restored the dead plants and grass. One drop does not end the drought. No drops continue the drought…

I'll keep doing it. One drop here, one there.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What is peace?

Peace as high as the sky, 
Sky to earth
Earth to sky  

In my own paganism,  my partner and I have hit upon an important practice of going to actual battlefields and praying a version of the peace prophecy.  We make offerings to the land,  the Gods and the dead without judgment of why they fought. We seek to heal the blood soaked land,  and bring peace back to it and peace to all those who once fought, and still fight.

But what do we mean by peace?

We often think of peace in terms of total surrender of the enemy,  of the goal of total war.  During the American Civil war,  William Tecumseh Sherman waged total war in the South,  burning Atlanta and destroying every plantation he found as a way of demoralizing the Confederates into surrender.  His goal was to utterly destroy their will to fight,  and his vision of peace was complete unconditional surrender.

In August of 1945,the United States had a plan to invade the Japanese home islands,  called Operation Downfall,  which would have involved a larger landing force that D-day, and was projected to have casualties in the tens of thousands. Despite back channel overtures of armistice,  the US used two nuclear weapons on the islands to force complete and total surrender, resulting in over 100,000 Japanese killed in the two bombings.

In each case, total victory was achieved.

And peace followed.  But this peace was bought at the price of utterly destroying some deep part of the losers’ identity.  The American states would never think of themselves as “these united States” but the language was forever changed into “the United States”. The union was unbreakable, eternal and irrevocable.  Lest another Sherman be loose upon any state or part thereof that thought the contract with the federals was at will,  or Amendment Ten mattered.

Japan would become a vassal of America, an outpost to enclose the Soviets and Red Chinese.  Never would they aspire to the martial glory of their proud ancestors.  
And thus peace is bought.  

According to LTC Dave Grossman in his book On Killing, the universal human phobia is homicide.  We instinctively recoil from the horror of death,  even of our enemies.  Most human conflict has been the raid, and not ironically the epic poetry of Ireland includes stories of cattle raids, not total exterminating war.  The conflict was usually fought either with champions facing off against one another,  or when mass battle,  one army was routed.  The ideas of respect for the enemy are a later construct of chivalry or bushido,  but the goal wasn’t winning through destruction,  but winning by capitulation. To quote The Princess Bride,  we don't fight to the death,  but to the pain.  

The psychology of why this was so common before the 20th century is that this is the more natural state of human war.  Genocide is contrary to the survival of the species. What is really at stake was usually resources,  and once secured the conflict ended.

One of the future trips we planned is to a place in Florida called Dade Battlefield.  During the Seminole Wars,  the Indians ambushed an army column.  Instead of running,  the army built a barricade and went to ground to fight.  The Seminoles slaughtered all but three soldiers who escaped,  and two died of their wounds on the way back to St Augustine.  When later asked about the ambush,  the Seminole fighters said they regretted killing the soldiers,  because according to their customs, the enemy was supposed to run away,  not dig in.  If the army ran they'd not pursue, because they’d have victory.  Slaughter wasn’t their way.

Some propose that wholesale killing in war follows industrialization,  but as late as the Vietnam war,  US soldiers were by some accounts shooting 25,000 rounds of ammunition for every kill. The cause was determined to be the unwillingness of soldiers to kill other human beings.  Guns are fantastically loud,  scary, produce smoke and flashes.  In line with the human tendency to scare enemy into submission,  they were not hitting their targets.  The solution was to change training: instead of shooting at bullseye targets,  shoot human silhouette targets to reprogram the subconscious to kill a human figure.

And thus,  become more deadly and kill more enemy.

So what has this to do with being pagan?

We live in an age of total war.  Any disagreement isn't about facts or experience,  but about character assassinations. About torment and gang warfare.  Witness the latest pagan dumpster fire online,  and it’s easy to spot how destructive we've become in the pursuit of being “right”. In total war,  it's not good enough to disagree, and walk on.  It's only acceptable outcome is utterly destroying a person with either tactical nuclear style terrorizing or attacking their loved ones, businesses or family.  I've seen all that in the pagan community,  and in the wider world too. But pagans being a minority,  we tend to do an excellent job of alienating and then tearing apart our own.

Summer in winter,
spears supported by warriors,
warriors supported by forts.
Forts fiercely strong;
banished are sad outcries
land of sheep
healthy under antler-points
destructive battle cries held back. 

Then what is peace in our context?  And why should we seek peace if it means accepting into sacred spaces those we don't agree with?

It’s actually critical for the building of community, and the furtherance of an environment that supports each person in their own growth to have a place where Pagan wars are forbidden.  For the past year,  we've done this through a Pagans in the Park event we run, and the key rule is this: leave the drama at home.

It works.  I don’t care if you're left wing or right,  if your pro or anti,  if you’re a lover or fighter.  You're welcome as long as you can play nicely and be polite.  Practice real tolerance, and mind your manners.

Peace doesn't look like winning at all costs.  It doesn't look like marching around calling strangers Nazis because you refuse to understand them. It doesn't look like scorched earth and character assassination.  It doesn't look like trying to drive someone’s out of business or harass their employer.

In short,  the total war will never bring peace. It brings resentment,  it destroys communities,  it breeds fear and mistrust.  And too many pagans embrace it and are killing their own religion.

Wished for earth
getting a boast
proclaiming of borders
Borders declaring prosperity
green-growth after spring
autumn increase of horses
a troop for the land
land that goes in strength and abundance.
Be it a strong, beautiful wood, long-lasting a great boundary
‘Have you a story?’
Peace to sky
be it so lasting to the ninth generation

(Translation M. Daimler copyright 2014)

Friday, February 3, 2017

The danger of PolitiTheism

Firstly, I want to apologize for the nearly year long hiatus from blogging. Many changes took place over that year, more than I want to really discuss in this forum. I continue to do Pagan things and teach, but at a greatly reduced amount. Since my divorce was finalized I have a bit more free time to write , so hopefully this will be a more regular thing,

There is a very disturbing trend I'm seeing in the pagan/polytheist world that I call PolitiTheism, and it's becoming more vocal and prevalent in post-Trump landscape. It's one where primarily Leftist Social Justice Warrior types feel that it is a fundamental part of their faith to take political stands. They actually believe their paganism logically leads to poiltical action, and often justify it through some rather unusual logic. Typically you don't see Rightists or Libertarians doing this mental gymnastics - to them typically politcs is wholly seperate from faith. But the lefties tend to fall into this way of thinking.

I've had both online and face to face conversations with these kinds of believers, and to a one they seem to conflate their faith with actions they defend as socially just. Such as being a Morrigan devotee or a self-described priest necessitates getting involved in local marches for things like Black Lives Matter, or some such activity.

Now I am pretty vocal about my own politics at times. I'm what is termed a Classical Liberal, i.e. the origial Libertarians. I grew up on a diet of Locke and Rousseau and Jefferson. I hold with what the Founders of the Republic called "Rightful Liberty". That liberty that is inherent and does not infringe on the liberty of others in its excercise. That respects the rights of life, liberty and properly, and fundamental is the idea that no one owes anyone more than the basic respect of the original concept of the Social Contract. I won't initiate force, and neiter will you. Anyone may defend themselves, but not initiate force. And free market capitalism is the most consistent econimic expression of these views.

But I don't condescend to use my faith in the Tuatha or my devotion to the Morrigan as justification for these beliefs. At core, I think is it downright blasphemous to do so and beyond foolish for two very big reasons.

First, blasphemey. A word you don't hear very often in Paganism, but one that is the most accurate IMO. Think about the nature of the Gods, not as ideas or archetypes, but actual living entites with agency. Their reach and power is vast, and so much greater than the miniscule concerns of a microscopic race, in a remote corner of the universe , blathering on about how important they are. Humans are also bounded in a very short time from a geological and astronomical sense, barely a handfull of millennia away from eating bugs and living short brutal lives, They think they are the pinnacle of creation and that the Gods of the universe are falling over Themselves to hear what ridiculous poltical opinions they have. And they credit these vast powerful beings as if they cared?

It's hubris. And quite frankly very self serving. And impossible to believe, makes me marvel a the coincidence when a person with a straight face tells me that the Morrigan Herself would approve of stopping traffic on a bridge to protest a shooting half a continent away.

Secondly, there's a real danger of believing one's own bullshit, especially when one has convinced himself it's the Voice of the Gods. All sense of reason and proportion goes out the window, and it's terribly easy to fool oneself into thinking that any action in the name of this delusion is justified. First it's trying to censor the speech of people you disagree with politically, or boycotting events where they might speak. Next it's smashing windows and burning cars. In very short order the first brick is thrown into a person's face, or somebody gets beaten to death, and the narrative in the delusional's head supports this, saying the Gods want it that way.

This is how crusades and Jihads get started.

Now don't misunderstand, we all have political views, but politics is a manmade system for manmade problems. The Gods don't give a shit about your politics, just as you don't give a shit about the politics of an ant colony. Its important to the ants, no dobt.

So my advice is drop the pretense of saying your Gods want a political end. They don't. They never do. It's men that want political ends, and use theimage of the Will of the Gods to manipulate and justify their actions. Don't be like that, operate with integrity and own your political views.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Bullets for the Morrigan

Q: What stone would you suggest for working with the Morrigan?
Me: A lead pellet in .308 caliber

The above exchange on social media is, I believe, the source of the latest disturbance in the Pagan world. It took place in a discussion page dedicated to the Queen, and I didn't get much of a replyn on that thread, but boy did it light up at Pantheacon 2016.

It touches on an old discussion about the appropriateness of what one puts on one's altar, and in my case specifically, some claim I am conjuring death and destruction by doing so.

If we're going to have a mature conversation, I want to set aside the arguments about gun control and whether lawful folks have a right to own firearms. That was settled in the US Supreme Court a few years back (Heller v District of Columbia), and isn't germaine to the discussion. Also, I don't want to entertain whether Pagans have the moral authority to kill animals – if one has ever eaten meat or worn leather, that person has participated in a kill even if it's removed by several steps.

I want to narrow down the focus to two things: first, why I chose to use bullets on my altar, and what it means to me, and secondly what is appropriate on and altar and who decides.

I began using bullets on my altar a few years back after an attempted carjacking. I hold a concealed weapon license from my state, and I have had one for the better part of a decade. I carry my weapon where and when I can legally and practically, and am a responsible and trained owner.

One night I was in out with my wife, and we were in the tourist part of town in a borrowed shiny new imported car. We were approached by a man who obviously wanted the car and made threatening advances. I was able to force him to back off only when he knew I was armed and willing to use it. After that encounter I sat in my car shaking, knowing that I almost had to kill a man over his own stupidity, and also the fact that I knew – I KNEW- I could and would defend myself and those I loved.

I believe that day having a gun saved both of us from death or grave harm. Ever since, I've made it a point to keep bullets that fit my guns on my altar, since I believe the Queen was looking out for me that day, and as a reminder that when push comes to shove I would be up to the challenge. If I didn't have the weapon, and it's bullets, the night would have gone very differently.

The second issue is the appropriateness of the bullet as an offering. Contrary to the left coast crowd, many of the Pagans who live in the South, Midwest and rural parts of America have a cultural background that includes an introduction to firearms at some point, usually in a positive light. For me it was my cousins hunting feral hogs in the Everglades and later by a good friend who was a police officer. For others it might have been target shooting with a parent or family member. Those of us that had a positive direct introduction to firearms know what they are and how they work, and accept them as tools that can be used to keep one safe or fed should need arise.

Another part of this issue is that firearms are used by bad people to hurt others, but blaming the weapon is never going to solve the problem. Years ago, I knew a woman who was murdered by her boyfriend using a hammer. The horror of the murder is senseless, but banning hammers because they could be used to kill in a way they weren't meant to is kind of like banning guns. Senseless.

Blaming the gun for a death is a double mistake. It makes the tool the guilty party and in a way absolves the person who pulls the trigger, and I personally think that's dishonest. Passing that responsibility is attractive, we don't want to blame a person for a mall shooting that kills 10 people, because a single person can only be punished once, but a gun can be banned forever. Also, is gives a sense that we've done something, even when we know it will do nothing to stop violence itself, or gun violence in general.

But this is the desperation people feel, and Pagans doubly so. Many of us believe in magic, and know as we will, so we create. Those who harbor a fear and mistrust of the weapon itself would be offended at the idea of a lone polythiest, who has alien political leanings on the opposite side of the continent, who places bullets on his altar to the Queen of War and Sovereignty. This is dark magic they reason, because he must be invoking war. What he really is doing is invoking thanks and giving Her the thing She asks.

These same Pagans turn archaic weapons into fetishes. They pray with sword and spear, shield and armor, thinking somehow that since these are old, they're somehow “safe” and more noble, that it takes skill to wield and have a martial culture. They will read and be inspired by tales of knights and think this is what true martial spirit are. Or be wooed by the idea of an Asian martial art that praises peace and compassion in the heart of a “warrior” mostly because it does not offend their tastes. To this I say two things: war and battle has never been glorious, and never confuse taste with morality.

All warfare takes skill. Regardless of the weapon. The closest most who gripe about guns have come close to one has been a video game, and don't understand the skill it takes to return fire while being fired upon, to control the reaction of adrenaline and act from training. Any of them wave a sword about as if they were out of a movie, with no concept of economy of motion, speed, precision, and discipline.

They find the idea of real death and war and conflict so distasteful as to label it immoral, while living off the freedoms won by war and the gun. They speak of sovereignty as if it were handed to them from on high, rather than bought with blood and will. And they wish they didn't have to fight for anything, condemning those who have fought for everything because it reminds them of an awful truth: life is hard, nothing is guaranteed and sometimes bad people win.

And all this goes through me as the bullet makes a soft “plink” into the offering dish.

I feel her smile. I think I have to get more range time in, speed up the draw stroke, get sight picture faster and recovery. I need to do more cardio and figure out how I can afford a training class. I want to be a better example and a better fighter, I want to serve Her well.


Friday, February 19, 2016

Meeting the Queen

I laid in bed, dejected. Once again, work comes to naught because some fool didn't check facts, and I'm now a public enemy because I uttered the unspeakable. It's a habit for me, but this came on fast. I'm staring out the window at the grey clouds over the mountains on the opposite side of a continent from home.

My beloved climbs on top of me, and gets my attention.

"They don't understand you", she says. "Tell them about your dedication and love for the Queen. They see the anger and strife, but they don't see the love ".

She's right.

It began for me when I was a child. I grew up with a violently abusive parent. Beatings were normal unless my parents were fighting reach other. To try to put sense to this is impossible, and for a child this was a daily fear. Following manic/depressive cycles, would I get beaten or locked out of the house today? Who knew? No sense was applicable in that world.

One day, after an especially bad episode, a ten year old me is locked in a hall closet for what was hours. It's disjointed, time was, and I began to call out for help. First to the God of my parents, Yahweh, Jesus, and no answer. I ran through my head, even asking for help from the devil. Nothing but silence and dark.

I then decided to ask for whoever would answer. And She appeared. And when I say " appear" I don't mean a vague impression, or blob or some outline, She literally stepped out of the dark in front of me. I think I was crying, I don't remember.

She calmed me, said She'd always be with me, and I had nothing to fear. If I could hold on a few more years, she'd set me free. I said yes, I would trust Her. I asked Her name and she said she would tell me later, but I would have to become stronger and She would ask things of me. I promised I'd do them.

About this time I was turned loose and sent outside.

Weeks later I was at the library, and found a book of paintings, including one with the title La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and threat was how I knew her. I spent the next few years learning everything I could about fighting and martial arts, Asian and ancient European, and at 18 I found my way into paganism.

At an eclectic coven I circled with, in my early 20's, I was doing journey work, looking for the "face of the Goddess" I was supposed to work with, when La Belle Dame appeared as I saw her when I was younger. She was and always had been the Morrigan, and the work was to be a warrior, and she'd show me how.

All my dedication today flows from those events. Today, I think She literally saved my life more than once. I moved on from the violence of my childhood, working tirelessly on my own self improvement. And always demanding from those around me that they work on theirs.

But beneath the demands, I feel deep love, reverence and cherish those around me. I was attending a pagan festival locally one year, and had to leave back into the mundane for a few hours. When I got back to the festival it was a bright and warm Beltane, and I saw a father and daughter flying a kite and children running across a field. I felt heavy with armor, with responsibility and I looked at simple happiness. I vowed inside I could stand on that hill and defend those people if needed, so that those kids could grow up pagan and free.

Love itself means nothing without Discipline. Discipline is a art of making choices and persevering in those choices for long term benefits. She has also taught me the value of that, to the point of costing me that which stood in the way of Her work and my self improvement.

One day in 2014, I made a choice to stand up against what saw as injustice and wrong, and since that day I became willing to use my full name to stand as a Pagan man, dedicated to his Queen, and speak my truth.

And that truth is that there is an absolute right and wrong. That every person is given rights by their Gods that no one can deny. That human freedom is the most important thing, not just for me but every person. That no one owes anything to anyone except non aggression. That every life is precious. That honor is a way of life.

That love is possible only between those who value themselves first, and see their values reflected in the other.

That one's reach should always exceed their grasp. Life without purpose and reflection isn't worth much, but life without will and action is worth nothing.

That art should exalt the spirit.

That we should strive to make our Gods proud.

That life is struggle and overcoming, a process of refinement.

And in the end the only legacy you really leave behind is your work.

It really is beautiful when you stop and think about it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

reference material-Warrior mindset

As promised on Warrior Mindset, this video represents the reciprocal promised made between trainer and trained in a warrior culture.


reference material-leadership

As promised, this is the video I reference in the Leadership workshop. It speaks for itself as to the loyalty that true leaders have for their charges. Enjoy.