Solitary Practice

Carl Neal at Pagan Square offers an interesting and stressful experience in a local wooded area years past:

When I opened my eyes and looked around, I saw there was a young couple on the adjoining trail with their small child. Although the look on the adult’s faces was priceless, it was clear that they were disturbed that I was hugging and talking to a tree and telling it not to be afraid. I smiled at them and started to explain what I was doing as I stood up. The couple didn’t wait for my explanation. Apparently standing up made them think that the “crazy tree-guy” was going to attack them so they ran down the trail like jack rabbits, with child in tow, and vanished onto the main trail leading back to the central parking area.

Exercising the better part of valor, I bade the tree spirit farewell and slide back to my car (parked near the “secret” back parking lot) just in case Park Rangers were dispatched with a straight jacket.

I’m willing to bet that most people who have done any sort of pagan or magic thing in a public areas know the nervousness that comes when other people approach. At the very least, it can be disruptive and embarrassing. At worst, it can pose a safety risk, especially if you are doing anything at night.

I can’t help but think that had there been a crowd of tree huggers that the couple would have passed on by with a chuckle, but seeing a Solitary left quite a different impression. Yes, being a Solitary Pagan can be a risky proposition. Not because being “out of the broom closet” might cost a job but because saying hello to a fairy just might get you put in restraints!

Depending on what you are doing, there is a risk that you might be seen as slightly insane, and there may be some authority figures involved. I myself have had encounters with the police in which they expressed concerns about ritual tools and weapons and wanted to know why I was in a given area at a given time of night.

My own past activities are not something I want to go into great detail about, but let’s just say that there were times in which I was in public parks past posted hours. I was lucky that the police officers I spoke with were friendly and happy to let me be once they were satisfied I was not doing anything dangerous or seriously illegal. There may have been other times when I was on privately owned wooded land — this was very stupid and I cannot endorse such actions, as private landowners may take more aggressive measures, and companies that own land are willing to prosecute those who ignore “no trespassing” signs.

The issue here is one of personal safety. If you are a solitary practitioner, and don’t have anyone to buddy up with when you go into wildish areas, you must exercise extreme caution. (I usually went out with Jack or other folks when I prowled around in my younger days, so at least I wasn’t totally alone.) If you are too far off the beaten path, there can be a risk of simple falls and injuries, but if you’re close to the beaten path there can be risks involved from people walking up on you. I’ve never had anyone come up on me when I was doing anything too weird that couldn’t be resolved by being still and quiet for a moment until they went by, but Neal’s story illustrates a potential for more direct and awkward encounters. And as I mentioned above, take care where you go, as access to some places is limited and can potentially get you into legal trouble.

So if you’re going to go out and play among the trees and things, and insist in going by yourself, keep a few things in mind:

1) Know the area first. Don’t tread into unfamiliar territory by yourself.

2) Dress for the weather. Make sure you’re warm if it’s cold out. Make sure you have water if it’s hot.

3) find a secluded spot for any work you plan to do. Even in busy areas, you can usually find a quieter place off the main path where people don’t go much.

4) Be careful about what tools you take with you. This is especially important if you have any ritual knives. Know what is legal to carry in your locality.

5) Be respectful if law enforcement becomes involved. Sure, they might think you’re weird, but most of them don’t care if you’re weird as long as you’re not causing trouble.

6) Be aware of your surroundings. While it’s hard to keep an eye out for passersby if you’re in a trace state, listening when doing any other work can let you know if anyone is approaching. Sometimes just being quiet for a moment is enough to avoid a potential conflict.

7) Be mindful of land boundaries! Most public parks close after dark, and you may have the cops called if you are seen. Be careful about trespass signs and warnings. I could offer tips on how to access such land with care, but for liability reasons I will not, and will simply advise you to stay off other people’s property.

8) Make sure someone knows where you’ll be. Just in case.

On the risks and considerations of solitary practice

Shawnee Mission Park

A couple of days ago I went to the park.

This wasn’t a casual visit. This park is a place where I had spent a lot of time as a youth, developing both magical, social, and romantic skills. And I had not been there in a great while.

See, recently, I had an experience that seemed innocuous enough, but was actually very powerful and has changed how I view and do a lot of things. It just happened to coincide with my reading of a fiction book with a depiction of wizardry that spoke very strongly to me. So I’m changing a lot of thing about myself and my practice.

And part of this has actually been reclaiming techniques and practices that I used to play with when I was younger, but I shied away from because  I was afraid to lose myself in them.

I’m not afraid anymore. (Or at least not as much.) Continue reading

Paganism and Environmentalism

And here I begin to delve into politics. Sorta.

There are a lot of Pagans out there that regard activism and environmentalism as integral to their paganism. If that’s their deal, then fine: I won’t hold it against them. My issue is when they assume that because those elements are central to their religious understanding, that they assume that those elements must be central to my religious understanding, and that if they aren’t then I aren’t a “real Pagan” or I’m not “enlightened” enough, or I’m a hypocrite because I’m part of a “Nature Religion” and I’m not committed enough to protecting “Nature.”

Because nothing is more endearing than a bunch of people who reject the labels and pigeonholing of the dominant and oppressive overculture, only to have them insist that you live by their rules, labels, assumptions, and dictates. Continue reading

Life and Struggle

A while back, John Halstead wrote a rather interesting and inspiring post about sharks.

Watching footage of great whites attacking dummy seals reminded me of a passage from Moby Dick in which Melville describes a pod of sharks feasting on the carcass of a sperm whale.  He sums up: “If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.”  As a Jungian, I read invocations of the devil like this as references to the dark side of God/dess or Nature.  Watching the great whites sharks, the dark side of nature is evident to me; and since nature is my god, I see the dark side of God/dess in sharks. Continue reading

What Being Pagan Means to Me

A while back, I read a comment on a pagan Facebook group that asked the deceptively simple question, “What does being pagan mean to you.”

I have a long-standing tradition of scoffing at such commentary. The internet is filled with people whining about what something-or-other means “to them.” Because apparently what it means to everyone else, or what it is in itself, doesn’t matter at all when compared to how they feel about it. (Yeah, I’m not one for post-modernism.)

I am breaking with that tradition and treating the question as a valid one, since it is. (Especially given the state of the Inter-Pagan Definitional War or 2013.)

A lot of this is material that I’ve commented on before in one way or another. I’ve talked about problems and considerations related to defining paganism. And I’ve talked a bit about how I view the environment, be it developed by man or in an abstract sense. And I’ve thought about how these ideas might fit together.

Well, this is the result of those considerations. It’s proving pretty damn tricky to define paganism as a concept or movement, but I can describe how I conceive of “paganism” as something that is relevant to my life.

And for me, being pagan is to have an awareness of the subtle connections of all things around us, and to integrate that awareness into your life and actions.

And now, me rambling at a camera:

Please comment below and/or on YouTube! Let me know what you think, not just of what I discuss, but on how the video production is coming along.

Urban versus Rural

The dichotomy of natural versus artificial is one that I have discussed before, mostly because it comes up so frequently in pagan discourse, and because I think it is a fabricated construct that does us a disservice:

The real issue comes with how we define “nature.” Nature as a concept is a romantic notion, one that brings to mind pristine and peaceful wilderness where noble savages live in peace and robust health. This is contrasted to the concept of the “artificial” or the manmade, which  is seen as exploiting or going against the virtues of Nature. This ignores three simple facts: 1) The “natural” world is inherently dangerous, and doesn’t give a flying crap if we survive comfortable or die slow, agonizing deaths; 2) The “artificial” world has bestowed upon us many things that have proven greatly beneficial to our comfort, survival, and well-being; and 3) Humans are animals, and are a part of Nature, and as such any activity we undertake, no matter how complex, is “natural.”

When people talk about things being more “natural,” what they usually mean is less complex. And even that isn’t really true, because “natural” things are oftentimes more complex than “artificial” things. That’s why we refine things: we take the part we want and simplify it and discard the rest. What they’re really getting at is an idea of purity. (But I digress …)

So I read this essay by Elinor Predota on the divide between urban and rural with interest.

To me it almost seems like a fairy-tale environment – too perfect to be real – and the same goes for the surrounding countryside of Somerset: an example of English rurality so perfect as to be almost a Platonic ideal.

While we walked around Bath, Josh and I discussed our differing responses to urban environments. I have a more typically ‘Pagan’ response to them, which is to say that I find them socially easier than rural environments, but energetically and spiritually more challenging. It was an interesting conversation.

I am strongly aware that my current difficulties in coping with life in urban settings is a big drawback to my ability to engage in human social life. Our conversation helped me to recognise that I have skills in relating to the non-human in more-than-human rural and green environments that I can transfer to the human in human-dominated environments – distinguishing between different scales of life, of energy, and of being, and relating appropriately to each, in a way which enables me to function in an environment, without becoming energetically overwhelmed.

Unlike the natural/artificial dichotomy, the divide between urban and rural can be define in a real and meaningful way. Suburbs can muck those divisions up a bit, so I prefer to think of the difference between urban and rural as one of developed versus undeveloped. Oops: rural areas are highly developed and planned.

So, to begin again. Urban areas are highly developed in terms of dense placement of dwellings and means of production. Rural areas are spread out (especially in places like Kansas) and open. It takes longer to cross rural distances. Urban activities are driven by high populations and follow their own temporal patterns.

And that is what occurred to me in reading Elinor’s comments. The main difference between urban and rural is one of pace, of process. There is far more activity in a city than a rural town. More people, doing more things, at a faster pace, ignoring sunrise and sunset. This is why I can’t sleep in Chicago — there are too many people doing too many things too late, and I feel it all throbbing underneath me.

But it’s not the buildings. They’re made out of the same rock and mud as a farm. It’s not the roads. The same roads crisscross the countryside. It is simply the energy generated by people doing people things. It is the difference between a squad of bees searching for nectar and the bustle of the hive.

And that very much is about being able to deal with people. But unlike the rural environment, it is about dealing and interacting with people you probably don’t know, and you can’t anticipate or understand, but who’s energy washes over you anyway.

And I don’t know that the energy of the land and the voices of the spirits are any quieter in the city. In fact, I doubt they are. But if you are attuned to the subtle energies of life around you, it is harder to sense the spirits of the land through the cacophony of millions of people living their hopes and fears.

I’m sure that there are ways to mediate this energy and work around it. I’ve done it myself, although I honestly don’t remember how I did it. But my concern is that one of the reasons so many pagans have trouble sensing the subtle energies of urban areas is because they’re taught that they can’t. And who knows – perhaps learning to open up to and cope with that much human energy will help is live together more easily, just as living in nature helps us adapt to the world that exists happily without us.



Local Seasons

I was catching up on Pete Carroll’s blog, and in one entry he commented that he knew that spring had finally arrived because his pond had filled with frogs.

It’s nice to have little local indicators that Spring has sprung, or that other seasonal shifts and changes have occurred.

The weather patterns for Kansas have been very off this year. It has been unseasonably cold so far, and this week we are facing record highs. But there are a few seasonal indicators that we can rely upon to tell that Spring has finally arrived.

The Bradford Pear trees bloomed a while back. For anyone not familiar with these trees, in early Spring they produce beautiful white blossoms for about two weeks. Those beautiful blossoms unfortunately emit a noxious odor that closely resembles a stale trashcan filled with used condoms.

That’s normally a good indicator of Spring. This year it failed, as the pretty white blossoms were covered in a few inches of snow and were killed off.

So our major indicator of Spring in Kansas is on its way soon: Tornado Season. It has been much delayed by the unseasonable cold, but this weekend is forecast to begin a week-long deluge of daily severe thunderstorms that bring flash floods, hail, and tornadoes. (If you’re not from the Midwest, it sounds much scarier than it is.) And that is the true sign that the wheel is turning.

We have other seasonal indicators, including geese migrating to and from Canada, as well as seagulls and pigeons. During the winter we get bald eagles out here, fishing on the rivers. Most of our trees lose their foliage relatively late.

Apparently on the East Coast they have hordes of cicadae emerging, and this is a seasonal indicator up there. I know that the Northeast has exceptional color shows compliments of their forests come Autumn. I’m not too sure what other major weather patterns or migratory activities denoted seasonal change in other regions.

So if I have any readers that notice or keep track of such things, what seasonal change indicators do you look for where you live? How do those indicators and seasonal changes match up to the Wicca Wheel of the Year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.