10 Years Under the Ancient Oaks

10 Years Under the Ancient Oaks June 29, 2018

On June 29, 2008 a new blog entered the world – this one. The introductory post was all of 538 words and it was titled “In the Beginning.” I wouldn’t recognize the irony of the title for several years. But the goal of the blog was clear:

I’m starting this blog because I need to work through some spiritual issues, and if I’m having these issues, probably someone else is too. I hope to attract some comments and questions that will help point me in the right direction. The end result will be a deeper, more consistent, more meaningful religious theory and practice.

Ten years later I can honestly say that I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish.

One of the spiritual practices I do and recommend is journaling. It has many benefits, one of the most important of which is keeping a record you can review periodically. Under the Ancient Oaks isn’t my personal journal, but it is largely a record of my spiritual journey.

This is a good time to look back on that journey.

The most ancient oak I know – the Seven Sisters in Mandeville, Louisiana – 2016

A Handful of Acorns

I’ve never been one to unquestioningly accept what I was told. I want to know why. And if your response doesn’t satisfy me, I’ve always been quick to poke holes in your position and tell you why I think you’re wrong. I like debating… but I don’t want to debate to win, I want to debate to learn.

I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church – religious debating was strongly discouraged. You could quote different scriptures to support your position, but any exploration of the context and meaning of scripture or doctrine was simply not allowed. So from a very early age, I kept a series of running theological debates going in my head. I wouldn’t resolve them until I was much older, but they kept the questions and the uncertainty around them active.

The Dallas Morning News used to have an award-winning Religion section. Somewhere in the mid-2000s they started a Religion blog on their website. Not one but three Religion reporters posted stories daily – I became a regular commenter. I identified as a UU Pagan – there were other regular commenters who were Baptist, Catholic, and atheist. We had some good conversations that were mostly respectful. Mostly.

Not all of the posts on the Religion blog were original stories. Many were stories from other publications, including some from bloggers. And I started thinking that if some of those people could run a blog, so could I.

Getting Started

I did some research on blogs and blogging software. I settled on Blogger, then called BlogSpot. It was simple, easy, and free – plus several bloggers I followed used it.

Somewhere along the way the name of the blog popped into my head, though I can’t remember where. I just remember visions of white-robed Druids teaching students and holding deep philosophical and magical conversations in a grove of huge old oak trees. Interestingly, Under the Ancient Oaks has never been part of my URL – that’s always been a variation on my name.

I’ve always had the identity of “Pagan, Druid, and Unitarian Universalist.” But my early posts were far more UU-oriented than they are now, and my early audience – such as it was – was as much UU as Pagan.

Ray Bradbury said everyone’s first million words are crap. I started writing long before I started blogging – best I can tell I hit a million words sometime in 2011. That’s about the time I started finding my voice – the posts from mid-2011 on have a fairly consistent feel to them, whereas the older ones are all over the place.

That was also about the time my practice started getting deeper. I had been working toward ordination – that was finished in September 2012. In December of that year I recognized the need for integration: to stop segmenting my life and be a Pagan and Druid in everything that I do. That was another necessary step forward.

Teaching under the oaks – DFW Pagan Pride Day – 2013

Moving to Patheos

In late 2012 Managing Editor Star Foster asked if I’d be interested in moving my blog to Patheos. I was interested, but a little concerned. The Wild Hunt moved to Patheos in 2011, but went independent again about the time I was looking at signing on. There were technical issues (Patheos’ servers were pretty awful in their early years) and Jason Pitzl-Waters didn’t like having ads for Christian organizations on his website. So I asked around – I still have Teo Bishop’s contact info in my phone.

I came to the conclusion that Patheos is what it is – a for-profit multi-faith religious website. I’m OK with that, and I wanted the greater exposure Patheos could provide.

Star left before I could make the transition, but Christine Kraemer picked up where Star left off. My first post on Patheos was January 21, 2013. Within two months my blog traffic had doubled. After a year and a half it was six times what it was during the Blogger days.

2013 is when we began discussing the Centers of Paganism. John Halstead started this as a work of religious studies – I still think it’s the best description of the Pagan movement available. I covered each center in detail that summer, then wrote a summary post in 2014.

When I looked at the comments on my first post on this topic, I found me, John Halstead, and Joseph Bloch having a polite and helpful conversation. Imagine that.

It was nice while it lasted.

The Great Polytheist – Atheist Kerfuffle

In 2010 if you had asked me if I was a hard polytheist or a soft polytheist, I would have said “yes.” Sometimes I was one, sometimes I was the other, and mostly the question wasn’t important to me. By 2014 my polytheism had reached the diamond level of hardness. Part of that was due to personal experience, part was due to conversations with other polytheists, and part was a growing awareness that yes, the question really does matter.

And one of the reasons it mattered was a growing number of intelligent, articulate Pagans who called themselves polytheists but who made it clear their Gods were not the Gods of our ancestors but abstractions of psychological and natural phenomena. In January 2014 I wrote Polytheism Redux where I linked to six different articles from different perspectives, summarized the key differences, and tried to be a peacemaker.

Peace was not possible. I tried to focus on promoting polytheism and on acknowledging our differences instead of whitewashing them. It didn’t work. I quit trying to be calm and rational with You Can’t Practice Paganism While You Look Down Your Nose At It in August 2015. The argument went on for another year. I pretty much ended my active participation with The Persistence of a Polytheist in September 2016.

In the end, the non-theists decided to stop calling themselves polytheists. Unfortunately, many of the better polytheist writers simply stopped writing. I regret the hurt feelings and broken relationships, but it was necessary to establish that It’s Not All The Same And That’s OK.

The Path of Paganism

After I moved to Patheos people started asking me “when are you going to write a book?” My stock answer (that I stole from somewhere I can’t remember) was “I don’t have a book-shaped work in me.” I’m good at writing 1000-1500 words on the topic of the day. I had no idea how to write a book of 50,000 to 100,000 words. But Christine Kraemer suggested that maybe my book was already in my blog. I could take some key blog posts, go into more depth, add some rituals and exercises, and have a short but useful book. All of a sudden the way was opened.

The story of how The Path of Paganism came to be is here. It’s far more than some blog posts and a few rituals – it’s a 320 page work that stands on its own. But without Under the Ancient Oaks, there is no Path of Paganism, and even if there is there aren’t very many people who want to read it.

I’m working on Book Two right now – expect it out sometime in mid-2019.

Blogging During the Storm

Christian theologian Karl Barth said “preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” I try to do the Pagan equivalent here on Under the Ancient Oaks. Sometimes that means writing about politics, but lots of people write about politics. There are very few people who write about Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here and The Otherworld is Bleeding Through.

Every December my Top 10 posts of the year feature has multiple storm-related posts in it. People are seeing and feeling and experiencing the same things I am, but many of them don’t have the context to recognize it. Or they don’t have the platform to discuss it with a wide audience. It’s my job to use the platform I have to say “yes, this is very real” and “yes, we need to do something about it.”

Here lately I’ve written a fair amount about politics. I’ll continue to do that when I have something I need to say, but there are lots of places where you can read politics. This is one of the few places where you can read about A Speculative Look at the Cycles of Magic and the Otherworld. I need to get back to writing about deep devotion and ecstatic experience.

The Future Under the Oaks

The spiritual issues I’m working through now are very different from the ones I wrote about in 2008. But I still wonder about the nature of the Gods and how we can best relate to Them. I still love my ancestors and I’m constantly looking for new ways to honor them, and to live so as to be recognized as a good ancestor when I’m gone. I’m still a Nature-loving Druid and I’m still trying hard not to let my preference for order keep me from the experiences of the Wild that my soul needs. And I wonder about the Fair Folk and what part they have to play in this grand reordering of the world.

So my plan for Under the Ancient Oaks is more of the same. I’m going to keep blogging three times most weeks. I’m going to keep writing what I need to say, and what my Gods tell me to say. I’m going to keep responding to the issues of the day, in the Pagan community and in the wider world.

In 2008 I had no idea where Under the Ancient Oaks would take me. I had no idea it would be going strong after ten years. But it’s been a good ride, and I’m glad you’ve joined me for some of it. I look forward to where the path leads in the future.

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