What a Decade It’s Been: A Spiritual Retrospective

What a Decade It’s Been: A Spiritual Retrospective December 22, 2019

Decades used to be a big deal. There were the Swinging 60s, the Malaise 70s, the New Wave 80s, and the Grunge 90s. But I haven’t heard many references to decades since the turn of the millennium.

A lot of that is because we never could figure out what to call the last two decades. I’ve heard the 00s (I said “zero zeros” as I typed that) called “the aughts” or “the noughties” but neither really caught on. This decade should have been called “the teens” and it may be in retrospect, but by the time we hit 2013 we had already been in the decade for three years.

The coming of the 20s snuck up on most of us. We’re ten days away from a new decade, and so before I do my usual year-end features, it seems appropriate to do a retrospective on 2010 – 2019.

Jason Mankey did a retrospective on the past decade in the Pagan movement earlier this month. I couldn’t have written that kind of post – I don’t have the breadth of experience to do it. I’m not sure any one person does, but Jason comes closer than anybody.

This post is a personal retrospective of the 2010s. It may be too personal, but this is my story and I want to share it.

before the Denton CUUPS Beltane circle – 2010

2010: Mired in the Mundane

My paying job took a turn for the worse in mid-2009. 2010 was the worst of it. Additionally, my spiritual practice was stuck. I had finished the OBOD course, I was serving as Coordinating Officer of Denton CUUPS, and I had been to a wonderful Druid gathering in California. I was starting to see what deep Pagan practice could be, but I had no idea how to get there.

In April I wrote this post titled Begin Again. It’s barely a hundred words – Jason would kick me off Patheos if I tried to post something that short today. But it was important for me to make a public statement:

What I wanted before is still what I want. I can give up, or I can begin again.

I begin again.

And so I did.

2011: Getting off the Plateau

In September 2010 I set a deadline for my paying job to improve or I was going to start looking for something new. Two months later there were several major organizational changes which improved my life considerably. By the start of 2011, the elevated – and at times, debilitating – stress was down to a manageable level.

But while I suddenly had the time and energy to work on my spiritual quest, I didn’t know where to go. I was doing what I had been doing for the previous eight years, and I was seeing first-hand that doing the same things in the same way tends to bring the same results. I felt stuck.

I had met Thorn Coyle at the House of Danu Gorsedd in 2009 and 2010 – I was very impressed with her as a teacher and a leader. I knew she did spiritual direction (I don’t know if she still does that work or not) and so I contacted her about getting help.

It was nothing special. There were no magical secrets, no powerful rituals, no long list of things to do. It was so ordinary I wondered if I was getting my money’s worth.

But then things started happening. I made a connection with the core of my being that has only gotten stronger. My occasional evening prayers became every evening prayers, then four times daily prayers. I picked up my exercise routine and while I didn’t lose any weight, I felt great.

Thorn’s magic worked. It wasn’t mystical or spooky or flashy. It just worked.

2012: Ordination

One of the things I did after I got off the plateau was start looking for an ordination. I had been asked to perform weddings, I needed legal recognition, and I wanted an earned ordination. ADF has a rather rigorous clergy training program, but I wasn’t a member of ADF at the time. OBOD does not ordain.

In mid-2011 I started studying one-on-one with John Michael Greer. At the time he was Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, and he was (and as far as I know, still is) an Archbishop in the Universal Gnostic Church, with the authority to ordain priests. The study program took about a year – the ordination rites were performed at the 2012 OBOD East Coast Gathering.

John Michael and I parted ways in 2014. I suppose it was inevitable, for reasons I’m not going to discuss on the blog. But I remain thankful for his guidance. I needed an earned ordination to support my clergy work and he helped me get it.

OBOD East Coast Gathering 2012

2013: A New Home at Patheos

I started this blog on a free Blogger site in 2008. In 2012 Star Foster (the original Patheos Pagan Channel Manager) invited me to move to Patheos. She left before that could be completed, but Christine Kraemer facilitated the Patheos setup shortly after she took over for Star. My first post here was January 21, 2013.

Patheos has been a very good thing for me. Within a year my readership doubled, and within two years it was up 6x. It’s grown every year except for 2017 (the worst of the Facebook algorithm changes) and 2019 has been another record year.

Patheos isn’t perfect. But writers want to be read, and there is no other platform that gives Pagan bloggers as much exposure and reach.

2014: Pantheacon at Last!

As I became more active in the wider Pagan community – and especially after I made two trips to Druid events on the West Coast – I began to hear about this thing called Pantheacon. In my mind, it was a both a modern Roman Bacchanal and a Pagan Council of Nicaea, where everybody who was anybody in the Pagan movement gathered to discuss important topics and party into the night.

At some level I knew I was making it out to be far more than it was. Still, I was envious of everyone who made the pilgrimage to San Jose each February. I told myself it was too expensive and the crowds were too much.

In 2014 I finally went. Reality was rather different from what my imagination had concocted, but I still had a great time. I went again in 2016 and 2018.

2020 will be the final Pantheacon. The post-Pantheacon future will be smaller and more regional, and that’s a good thing. But that first trip in 2014 was a truly magical experience.

Patheos Pagan at Pantheacon 2014: John Beckett, Niki Ruggiero, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Jason Mankey, John Halstead

2015: Defining Polytheism

I’m not sure how the Great Polytheist – Atheist Kerfuffle of 2015 got started. The competing blog salvos between myself and John Halstead got more publicity than anything else, but it was much broader than that.

At the core of the debate was the question “what are the Gods?” Many individual beings? Aspects of one great God/dess? Or the higher impulses of our human minds? And at the core of the controversy was one side insisting that Paganism needed to give up its “primitive” belief in real Gods, and the other side insisting that while everyone is entitled to their beliefs, if you don’t believe in real Gods you have no business calling yourself a theist of any description.

In late 2015 I wrote It’s Not All The Same And That’s OK to emphasize the need for clear theological boundaries and mutual respect. To me, this post sums up the debate (or at least, my views on it) as well as anything.

There were many other posts by many other writers – you can spend all day following the links in the various posts. Possibly the best of all of them was this one titled Paint It Red by the Anomalous Thracian. It shows not just the topics being discussed, but the passion with which they were debated.

This controversy produced some of the best writing our wider community has seen. It also produced hurt feelings and broken relationships.

Was it necessary? Yes.

I just hope we don’t have to do it again.

2016: The Shredded Veil

This was the year we went from “a storm is coming” to “the storm is here.” In June I saw what I’m now convinced was an Otherworldly bird that somehow made its way into our world. By the end of the year I said the Veil Between the Worlds is shredded.

I still don’t know exactly what’s causing this. That hasn’t stopped me and others from investigating and speculating and trying to come up with strategies and tactics to deal with it.

We speak of cusps and transitions because shifts in eras and aeons take years and in some cases decades to complete. Liminal zones that are neither within nor without are known for being magical – and dangerous. But when historians look back on this time, I’m confident they’ll mark 2016 as a major milestone on the way from where we were to where we’re going.

Even if in 2019 we still don’t know where that is.

2017: The Path of Paganism

I always wanted to write a book. After I moved to Patheos Pagan in 2013, people started asking me “when are you going to write a book?” I didn’t think I had a “ book-shaped work” in me. Turns out I did – I just had to figure out how to put it together.

I started work on what would become The Path of Paganism at Imbolc 2014. After a couple of false starts, I finished it in December 2015. The physical book started shipping in April 2017. The full story is here.

The book-making process is so long that by the time I could hold my book in my hands, it didn’t feel like a very big deal. But there aren’t many intermediate Pagan books on the market, and now there’s this one. And not just any Pagan book, but one that describes Paganism as I understand it and practice it.

And I’m really happy about that.

2018: The Fairy Dog

I’ve made three trips to Ireland and they’ve all been great. I’ve blogged about them all. The last trip in 2018 was special for many reasons, and at the top of the list was an encounter with what my entire traveling party is convinced was a fairy dog.

This happened as part of A Visit to Fourknocks – An Adventure in Four Parts.

We had been inside Fourknocks for perhaps ten minutes when a small dog decided to join us. He looked around inside, as if checking us out, then went outside on his own. We went back to examining the rock carvings inside the mound. A couple minutes later we heard a long, loud howl like no dog any of us had ever heard.

I’m not a dog person, but some of our group are – they said the same thing. I went outside and the dog was staring at me – this time I saw the dog instead of just glancing at him.

It was a small tan dog – nothing out of the ordinary. But his eyes were solid black, and there were broad red streaks under his eyes, as though the dog had dipped his fingers (if a dog had fingers) into red ochre and painted his face with it.

In Celtic lore, red markings are a sign of an Otherworldly animal – even I could tell this was not an ordinary dog. Apparently it was time for us to go.

Most of my religious and spiritual experiences are, well, spiritual. So when I see and hear something Otherworldly with my this-world senses, it’s yet another confirmation that even though many people say this can’t be real, I know it is.

2019: The Year Everything Was On Fire

It’s hard to say what themes or events will have a long-term significance for a year that’s not completely over yet. But someone in Denton CUUPS called 2019 “the year of setting things on fire” because so many of our rituals involved ritual burnings (including Beltane, which I led). And then someone else looked at our community and the wider world and said 2019 was “the year everything was on fire.”

Denton CUUPS Beltane 2019

On one hand, I participated in some amazing rituals – the best of which I can’t talk about. My second book came out and was generally well received. I had some wonderful travels, both mundane and spiritual. It’s been another great year on the blog.

On the other hand, my paying job has been stressful, I’ve had financial challenges, and my health has been up and down. Many of my closest friends had difficulties and upheavals that were far worse. When I asked my Gods about this they said “you’re living in Tower Time – what do you expect?”

Nevertheless, we persisted.

I often recommend journaling as a spiritual practice. Many times you don’t know how far you’ve come until you look back at where you were. I’ve come a long way from 2010 to 2019. But the biggest shift has been the confidence I have that no matter how difficult things may be, whether the results are good or bad or in between, I’m on the right path.

And that makes this decade a success.

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