December 29, 2020

As I mentioned in the last post, 2020 has been just as bizarre in blogging as it has in everything else. As a result, all of the Top 10 posts of 2020 are from the first four months of the year. I thought about trying to come up with some sort of weighted average, but at the end of the day, the numbers are what they are.

But I am going to include the “Next 5” – the top five posts from May through December. They’re important too.

These are the top ten posts of the year on Under the Ancient Oaks, as measured by page views. Only 2020 posts are eligible. The Solitary Rituals and the 8 Things To Do series are always very popular, but nobody wants to see the same posts on the Top 10 list year after year.

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2020

10. A Modern Pagan Guide to Cursing (April 2020)

Some people say that cursing is the new “in thing” and they’re throwing curses left and right over trivial matters. Others say no ethical witch would ever curse, and if they did the Threefold Law would make them regret it.

As I see it, cursing is the big hammer in the toolbox of the magician. You don’t need it often, and if you try to use it when you need a smaller tool you’ll just make things worse – for yourself as well as for everyone else.

But when you need it, you need it.

to make a poppet

9. The Morrigan Demands Persistence Not Perfection (January 2020)

It seems that every January I end up writing about the Morrigan. I never plan it, but when the Battle Raven says “you, Druid – write this!” I write it.

In January I saw people who work with and for the Morrigan express sadness and regret that things they had planned to do for Her hadn’t goen the way they hoped. After the last one, I heard the Great Queen say “I demand persistence, not perfection.”

Morrigan painting by Emily Brunner

8. For Beginning Witches and Pagans Who Want More (March 2020)

I see so many people calling themselves witches who seem more concerned with how they dress and what they buy than with the actual witchcraft they work. It’s not my job to tell them they’re wrong or that they’re shorting themselves – that’s for them to decide. My job is to be here as an entry point for those who want something more.

7. Teaching Without Credentials, the Dangers of Cursing, and Watered Down Paganism (February 2020)

Speaking of beginning witches and Pagans, this post was the outcome of several questions for Conversations Under the Oaks (which I probably should do again in January). There was some concern for beginners moving too far too fast… and also some “get off my lawn.”

At the end of the day, age and experience are secondary concerns. Either you can do something or you can’t. And sometimes even very smart people have to learn things the hard way.

6. 5 Things to Pay Attention to During the Lockdown (March 2020)

As the Covid-19 pandemic began to spread across the United States we all found ourselves in some degree of lockdown, resulting in disruptions to our mundane lives and our spiritual practices. And here we are again in late December <sigh>.

Maintain your spiritual practice. Don’t just pray to your Gods, listen for Their direction. Don’t just make offerings to your ancestors, listen for their wisdom. Don’t just say hello to your local land spirits, become their allies.

5. 6 Pagan Roles To Fill During The Quarantine… And Afterward (April 2020)

By mid-April most states started “reopening” and we hoped the worst was behind us. It wasn’t.

But the disruption to our lives – including our religious and spiritual lives – showed that there are roles our wider community needs filled, now and in the future. Technology Chief, Pastoral Care Coordinator, Philosopher and/or Theologian, Shrine Keeper, Hedgewitch. And there will always be a place for Pagan lay people – those who want to honor the Gods but otherwise live ordinary lives.

4. The End of Beltane as “The Sexy Holiday” (April 2020)

Early modern Paganism emphasized the idea that sex is natural and sacred, not sinful or shameful. That was a good and necessary thing. But somewhere along the way we ended up with the idea that Beltane is a time for orgies in the woods, or at least, a time when everybody should be having a lot of sex.

And every year, we’re reminded that too many people exploited the idea of sacred sexuality for abusive purposes, and some still do. The sexual imagery of Beltane is often unwelcoming to people who aren’t cis, straight, and partnered.

This post generated a lot of comments, some here and more on Facebook. A few people really like the idea of Beltane as the sexy holiday and they push back on any attempts to change it.

I’m already thinking about a follow-up post for Beltane 2021…

3. Our Gods Are Not Jealous Gods: The Importance of Building a Pagan Worldview (February 2020)

From time to time I see people talking about how a certain God is angry with them for paying attention to other deities. Or how they’ve been told They want an exclusive relationship, and hinted that Bad Things will happen if They don’t get it.

This is almost always an inaccurate reading of the situation. Our Gods want what They want, but beyond that They are not jealous Gods.

Why we think they’re jealous is a symptom of an even larger problem.

2. A Pagan Response to the Coronavirus (March 2020)

This was my first post about the pandemic. At the time (March 15) there was still some denial among well-meaning people. I needed to make the point that it was – and still is – very real.

A plague is not an individual thing – how we respond has an impact on other people in the world. I encouraged everyone to read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.

But also, remember that as magical people, we have skills that others do not. Magic alone won’t keep you safe from the Coronavirus, but magic can give your mundane efforts some extra juice. Maintain your spiritual practice. Remember your ancestors.

And remember that while someday the pandemic will be over, things will not go back to normal, because this is Tower Time and normal is an illusion.

1. How to Do Paganism Wrong – Nine Arrogant and Offensive Ways (January 2020)

A UK tabloid writer picked up a book titled The Modern Witch’s Guide to Happiness and decided to become a witch – for a week. What she wrote about her experiences was pretty much what you’d expect: superficial, sarcastic, and condescending.

But one good thing came out of all this – the writer gave us a prime example of how to do Paganism wrong.

This post would have been #1 even if it had come out in August.

The Next 5

The Hard Cure for Conspiracy Theories (June 2020, #11 overall)

As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough on its own, we’ve seen an explosion of conspiracy theories. It doesn’t help when the President of the United States is spreading them.

Conspiracy theories are popular because people want simple answers to complicated situations, because they lack basic knowledge, and because conspiracy theories provide meaning – they let people feel like they’re in on a secret.

The only alternative I see is mysticism. It’s not an easy alternative, but it generates real and authentic experiences in which we can find the kind of identity and meaning that conspiracies can never match.

What Did You Expect From Tower Time? (June 2020, #14 overall)

Those of us who’ve been talking about Tower Time and The Storm for years should not be surprised by anything going on, in politics, in Nature, or in the world of spirit. Let’s quit trying to act respectable and become the strongest, most competent witches, Pagans, and other magical people that we can be, that we need to be, and deep down, that we want to be.

I’ll be teaching “Navigating Tower Time – Magic For an Era of Change” early next year. Registration opens in January.

The Darkness is Returning – And That’s a Good Thing (August 2020, #16 overall)

This was a post I wrote for myself – that it was so popular with others was a bonus.

Texas summers can be oppressive. When the days start getting shorter, it’s a reminder that cooler weather is coming. And this year, it was also a reminder that even pandemics won’t last forever.

The Election Continues but the Referendum on the Soul of America Is Over (November 2020, #17 overall)

I am beyond relieved that Joe Biden won the US Presidential election and that Donald Trump’s days are numbered – that number is now 22. But while the election ended up being not as close as it seemed on Election Night, it was still far closer than it should have been.

This election was a referendum on the soul of America. I honestly believed that after having watched and listened to Donald Trump day in and day out for four years, a significant number of people who voted for Trump in 2016 would recognize their error and vote him out.

How naïve.

74 million people decided they like the way Donald Trump governs. Or at least, they’re OK with it.

The soul of America is rotten.

Why It’s So Hard To Work Magic Right Now (September 2020, #19 overall)

There are times when magic is a lot of fun. But this isn’t one of them, and if I wait for it to become fun again I may not be doing anything for a long time. That would make things even worse. Sometimes working magic is work. But sometimes work is necessary.

December 29, 2019

2019 has been another great year on Under the Ancient Oaks. It’s been a record year for readership, and I’ve been very happy with the conversations that have come out of the blog, both here and on Facebook. My second book Paganism In Depth came out this year. The on-line class based on it exceeded my wildest expectations, and there’s a new on-line class starting in January.

My blogging continues to be a mixture of theory, practice, and current events – in the political world and in the spiritual world. I feel like I blogged less about politics this year (though I discussed it more in social media) but then I see two explicitly political posts in the Top 10 list.

But I also see posts on theology, spiritual practice, magic, and dealing with the metaphysical upheaval we find ourselves living in. The same pattern is there in the second ten and the third ten. My Paganism is a holistic Paganism. I hope yours is too.

These are the top ten posts for the year on Under the Ancient Oaks, as measured by page views. Only 2019 posts are eligible. Also, I’ve excluded the “8 Things To Do” series. If I hadn’t, Ostara would have been 2nd and Imbolc would have been 3rd.

10. 6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Swear an Oath to a God (and 3 Reasons You Should) (February 2019). Our contemporary society doesn’t understand oaths, and it certainly doesn’t understand the gravity of swearing an oath to a God. Oaths aren’t required to have a relationship with a deity, and you shouldn’t make an oath if you don’t fully understand what you’re getting into. What is sworn cannot be unsworn.

But if you’ve been repeatedly asked for an oath, if you want to strengthen the relationship, and if you can’t imagine doing anything else, perhaps it’s time.

I have oaths with three deities. They have been positive and beneficial, but they have not been easy. Know what you’re getting into.

9. What it Means that Nobody Believes Jeffrey Epstein Killed Himself (August 2019). In August, hedge fund operator and accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died in jail. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said he hanged himself, even though the evidence is far from conclusive.

An informal survey of my Facebook feed ran about 15 to 1 that his death wasn’t suicide… and I have very few friends who are conspiracy theorists. On the contrary, some of my most skeptical and well-grounded friends found it far easier to believe Epstein was murdered than to believe he killed himself.

If Epstein was murdered, it means there are people who are 1) incredibly rich, 2) who have no problem paying to have sex with underage girls, 3) who are willing to kill to protect their dirty secrets, and 4) have the connections to reach inside a federal prison to make it happen.

And that’s a scary thought.

8. Why I Believe in the Gods (October 2019). There seem to be as many opinions on the Gods in the Pagan community as there are Pagans. This includes those who don’t believe in any Gods, or who believe They’re the anthropomorphization of natural forces or metaphors for psychological phenomena.

It’s not my place to tell those people they’re wrong. It is my place to offer a differing viewpoint.

When I say “I believe in the Gods” I mean that I affirm the existence of individual beings who are the mightiest of spirits and who exist independently of human minds and human cultures. Though They often work through humans and other persons, that is by choice and not by necessity. They are fully capable of acting on Their own.

Belief is not the most important thing, but it’s an important thing.

As for me, I believe in the Gods because I’ve experienced the Gods.

7. Druid Reading Recommendations: A Revised List (February 2019). I’m a Druid – and a rather public Druid – so I get requests for recommendations for books on Druidry all the time. In 2011 I put together a blog post of Druid Reading Recommendations – this year I decided to update it.

The list contains recommendations for introductory books, books on the historical Druids, and books on the Revival Druids. And it points out one book to avoid at all costs.

After I published this list I learned that two of the books on it are out of print. Ronald Hutton’s The Druids is currently available used at reasonable prices. This book isn’t required reading to practice Druidry, but it is very helpful in understanding how Druids have been seen throughout history. It shouldn’t be the first book on Druidry you read, but do read it eventually if you can.

Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism is currently overpriced through used sources. While it’s a good introductory book, there are other options that are more reasonably priced – there is no need to strain your budget for this one. Some have raised concerns due to the now-confirmed charges of sexual misconduct against Isaac. Isaac died in 2010 – he cannot benefit from you reading this book, nor will he suffer if you avoid it. As a society we have many opinions on how to deal with books, movies, and works of art made by people who did bad things. You must decide for yourself how best to proceed.

6. Why Pagans Don’t Proselytize (July 2019). We laugh at the memes asking “have you accepted Pan as your lord and satyr?” but the idea of Pagans seriously having that conversation borders on nonsensical. While publicizing our religions is good and necessary, there’s a big difference between that and the kind of high-pressure, fear and guilt based sales pitches of the conservative versions of Christianity and Islam.

Religious coercion is unethical. Most of us have been on the receiving end of aggressive proselytization and we don’t want to do that ourselves. We understand that religion is inherently uncertain, and unlike the religions who believe their way is the only way, we understand that many Gods call many different people to worship Them in many different ways.

5. You Didn’t Learn Witchcraft To Find A Parking Space (August 2019). Another day, another mass shooting. But I refuse to accept that there’s nothing that can be done to make these atrocities less frequent and less deadly, even if we can never completely eliminate them.

A few people interpreted this title as being judgmental against beginners, or against those who use magic for ordinary purposes. That wasn’t the intent, and the widespread popularity of this post tells me most people understand that.

“You didn’t become a witch so you could find a parking space at a crowded mall. You became a witch because it brought a bit of power and autonomy into your life.” I’m a Druid and not a witch, but when it comes to working magic there’s not a lot difference.

While high magic is traditionally a pursuit of the wealthy, low magic – including witchcraft – is the pursuit of ordinary people who find the doors of power closed to them. If those in power will do nothing to protect us, we can protect ourselves, using both magical and mundane methods.

4. The Morrigan Calls People In Different Life Situations (January 2019). I’ve been writing about the Morrigan and Her calls since 2012. This is the third straight year a Morrigan-related post has made the Top 10 – what She’s telling me to say is clearly resonating with many of you.

Some people ask “what could I possibly do for Her with my life the way it is?”

Maybe the Morrigan wants you to train and study for something She’s going to ask you to do five years from now. Maybe She wants you to clear some troublesome things – or some troublesome people – out of your life so you’ll be able to devote your full attention to Her when you’re done. Or maybe She wants you now, regardless of your situation.

I do not presume to know Her mind, but I feel confident in saying She values people in different life situations with different things to contribute – because I’ve seen Her do it.

If you feel the Call of the Morrigan, do not let your life situation keep you from saying “yes.”

3. The Gods Call Who They Call (July 2019). I wish I didn’t have to keep writing about this. Feeling called to the traditions of your ancestors is a good thing, but DNA isn’t religion.

The Gods call who They call. A study of history and an observation of contemporary polytheists clearly show They call who They want, for whatever reason They want. Race, skin color, national origin, language, gender, orientation – none of that matters. What matters is whether the person in question is willing to worship, work with, and work for the deity in question.

Do you want to have to explain to Odin or to Sekhmet why you told someone They called to Their service “you’d really be better off with a God from your own part of the world”? Gatekeeping the Gods is unnecessary, disrespectful, and dangerous.

2. Sacrificing Women’s Lives on the Altar of Political Purity (May 2019). I don’t like writing about abortion. The last thing the world needs is another man talking about what women should or shouldn’t do with their bodies. But in the aftermath of new dangerously restrictive abortion laws in multiple states, I had to say something.

These laws have nothing to do with “saving babies” and everything to do with sacrificing women’s lives on the altar of political purity. They are cruel and unjust laws passed by uncaring legislators for the sole purpose of screaming “I’m 100% pro-life!” while standing on the bleeding bodies of women trying to end pregnancies they cannot or should not or do not want to complete, and the bodies of those injured or killed giving birth under impossible circumstances.

These laws are clearly unconstitutional. They’re being passed knowing they will be challenged, in the hope that the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade after 46 years. Trump already has two justices on the court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 87 next year and Stephen Breyer will be 81.

Remember that when you’re trying to decide if you should support the Democratic nominee for President even though he or she isn’t your first choice.

1. A Ritual to Remove Curses We Place On Ourselves (August 2019). I knew this post would be popular. I had no idea it would be this popular. It got more views than #2 through #6 combined. It’s now the #3 post of all time, trailing only two posts that went viral in the mainstream.

I’m not sure how widespread self-cursing is, but apparently it’s more widespread than I thought. Most times we don’t realize what we’re doing even after it’s done. Self-curses tend to be rather embarrassing – it’s not something most of us want to talk about.

Idle words are not curses, but words plus desire is magic. If what we say we want isn’t what we really want, or if it’s something harmful, we get it anyway – and that can be a curse.

I know it happens, because I’ve done it myself. I’ve also composed and performed a ritual that successfully removed that curse. This post describes how to do it yourself.

December 27, 2018

2018 has been a great year on Under the Ancient Oaks. It’s been a record year for readership despite both Facebook and Google making it more difficult for blogs to be seen. Engagement is up, both in blog comments and on social media. Current events posts did well, as did some deeper Pagan and polytheist topics – I love it when the deep posts do well. “Conversations Under the Oaks” brought new topics to the blog.

The video series faded away. A few of you loved them, but in general they weren’t well received, and they were very time-intensive to make. But I learned some things about video, and I’ll use it again sooner or later.

2018 was a great year for Patheos Pagan as a whole. More writers, more posts, and a record number of readers. Pagan blogging isn’t a competitive thing – good writing stimulates demand for more good writing. When some of us do well, all of us do well. I don’t agree with all the writers, but I’m not supposed to – different perspectives are good. If you only read my blog, check out some of the others in the “Popular at Patheos Pagan” list on the right, or in the “Trending at Patheos Pagan” list at the bottom.

These are the top ten posts for the year on Under the Ancient Oaks, as measured by page views. Only 2018 posts are eligible. Also, I excluded the “8 Things To Do” series. If I hadn’t, Winter Solstice would have been 2nd and Beltane would have been 4th.

Top 10 of 2018

10. The Morrigan Calls More Than Warriors (February 2018). “What does the Morrigan want with me? I’m not a warrior.”

Maybe you need to become a warrior. In the era before professional armies, if your village was attacked, you fought, whether you were any good at it or not. Or maybe you need to serve Her causes in a support role. I am oathed to the Morrigan, but I am not a warrior. I did not promise to fight for Her. Instead, I promised to perform Her devotions, to tell Her stories, and to serve Her community.

The Gods call who They call. If the Morrigan is calling you, you can be sure She has a good reason, even if you can’t see what that reason is. Your challenge is to figure out how best to respond.

9. House Cleansings Gone Wrong and How to Avoid Them (November 2018). House cleansing and blessing is basic Paganism. It’s a good and effective way to make your living space clean and safe. It’s a way to make it yours.

But before you begin, listen. Look around. Do some research. See what’s going on, and then think carefully about how to proceed. And whatever you do, resist the urge to break out the Big Bad Banishing magic unless you’re sure that’s what’s needed.

8. A Letter To Those Trying To Convert Me (August 2018). Back in the summer I got more than my usual share of proselytizers. Their goal was to aggressively convert me to their religion, not by convincing me it’s a better way, but by insisting it’s the only way. Some were Christians, some were atheists, and a few were Muslims.

Needless to say, it didn’t work. It did succeed in annoying me enough to write this post.

Do you understand the sheer arrogance required to believe that your way is the One True Way and everyone else is categorically wrong?

Whatever argument these people make, I’ve heard it before. I’ve examined it, contemplated it, and rejected it. Paganism has been a good thing for me, and it continues to be a good thing. I’ve made my decision and I expect others to respect it.

Still, I support a free and open Marketplace of Religions. Proselytizing is bad, but publicizing is fine – and it’s necessary, something we Pagans would do well to remember.

So present your religion to the public. Let your God call who he will call. Welcome those who want to join you.

And leave the rest of us alone.

7. Enough With the Mabon Hate! (September 2018). Our Celtic ancestors left us definitive names for the four fire festivals: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. Modern Paganism adopted Yule for the Winter Solstice and Ostara for the Spring Equinox. A few of us call the Summer Solstice Litha, but mostly I hear it called Midsummer or simply the Summer Solstice.

What do we call the Autumn Equinox?

There are several possibilities:  Harvest Home, Cornucopia, the Feast of Avalon, or Haligmonað, which means “holy month.” For the past five years Denton CUUPS has celebrated it as Gleichentag, which means “even day.” But in 1974 Aidan Kelly named it Mabon and it stuck, and some Pagans aren’t happy about it.

I don’t have a lot of energy for this controversy.

If you just can’t stand to hear it called Mabon, then by all means call it something else. If you can get enough people doing it, it may catch on… But every time you scream “don’t call it Mabon!” or “Mabon has nothing to do with the Fall Equinox” you perpetuate the name in common usage…

The name of the Autumn Equinox has changed many times, and it can change again. But if it does, it will be because enough people flock to a new name, not because Mabon gets shouted down on the internet every September.

6. Their Ways Are Not Our Ways: A Warning And A Call (September 2018). Even the most orthodox of religions aren’t practiced at the same level of commitment and intensity by everyone. Paganism is certainly no exception. We have lots of beginners. We have people who are nominally Pagan, people who are serious about what they do, and people who could rightly be called devout and pious. One level of intensity isn’t “better” than the others – the question is finding the level that matches your needs, desires, and commitment.

Deep spiritual work and ecstatic experiences of Gods and spirits may look glamourous. It isn’t. It will turn your life upside down. It will unmake you and remake you into something you may not recognize. It will remove normal boundaries and put you on call day and night.

The line between ecstasy and insanity is exceedingly thin.

Do anything else if you can. Be a Pagan doctor or a Heathen lawyer or a Kemetic store clerk. Be a Wiccan High Priestess and coordinate the local Pagan Pride Day.

But if nothing short of the repeated intimate knowledge of your patron deity will do, if the Morrigan or Odin or Hermes won’t leave you alone until you join Their team, if there is nothing that can take the place of running wild with the God of the Forest, then do it.

“So surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”

They’re running me into the ground. And I love it. Dear Gods, I love it.

5. Why I Don’t Like Sexy Morrigan Imagery (January 2018). Go looking for pictures and statues of the Morrigan and you’ll find a wide variety of themes, from regal queens to bold warriors to sexy temptresses – and some that attempt to combine all three. Some people have raised objections to these images grounded in various political and gender theories. Those are valid, but they’re out of my area of expertise. I simply don’t like sexy Morrigan imagery.

It’s inauthentic. It’s a distraction. It often crosses the line from sex-positive to sex-obsessed.

The Morrigan is not a Sex Goddess. There is one time in the literary record where She had sex, and that’s with someone who may have been Her husband. She made an offer to Cú Chulainn which may or may not have included sex, but in any case was refused. That’s it.

My devotion to the Morrigan and my work for Her has nothing to do with sex, or even with fit and attractive bodies. It has nothing to do with being sex-positive. It’s about the decidedly unsexy work of devotion, of communication, and of dealing with the aftermath of conflict and war.

Sexy Morrigan pictures and statues are mostly inauthentic and they’re a distraction from my work for the Great Queen. And so I avoid them.

4. 9 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was A New Pagan (January 2018). I have mixed feelings about trying to tell newcomers all the places we screwed up as baby Pagans. So much of our journeys are personal and individualized – the problems I had may be very different from the ones you face. And many times we have to learn things the hard way because we refuse to listen to anyone else.

But these stories can be helpful to beginners who read them at the right time. This is my list of things I wish I’d known as a new Pagan.

The list begins with “you have to deal with your own issues first” and “examine your worldview mindfully.” It ends with the reminder that how you make a living and how you make a life are two very different things.

3. 5 Bad Reasons to Become a Pagan (March 2018). Different people come into Paganism for different reasons, but some of those reasons are bad reasons. In doing so, they set themselves up for disappointment, and they distract our movement from its higher goals.

Instead of seeking power, seek virtues. Instead of seeking secret knowledge, read and study. Too much knowledge is secret not because it’s hidden but because it’s ignored. Concentrate on honoring your ancestors, not on trying to find a direct connection to the ancients. Instead of looking for free sex, work to build a culture of consent.

2. Celebrating Wolfenoot as a Pagan (November 2018). Wolfenoot is the new holiday on November 23 that celebrates wolves, dogs, and people who are kind to dogs. It was invented by a seven year old boy in New Zealand and quickly took over social media. I expected this post to do well, but I had no idea it would end up the #2 post for the year.

Wolfenoot isn’t religious, but it’s definitely spiritual, and it has a quasi-religious tone to it. It’s a great example of organic religion – how we humans celebrate and memorialize things that are meaningful to us. It didn’t come from anyone’s holy book. It has no theology, doctrines, or creeds. It arose organically – and then it spread with the speed of 21st century technology and interconnectedness.

I marked the first Wolfenoot with a small donation to a group that rescues wolves and wolf-dog hybrids that people foolishly try to turn into pets.

Yukon sled dogs

1. Did You Think The Gods Were Lying? (July 2018). Sooner or later there comes a time when it hits us: “oh, shit – this is real.” And in an instant we have to make a decision. Do we accept what our senses are telling us and begin the process of rearranging our lives to accommodate the new reality? Or do we pretend we didn’t really see what we know we saw and go back to watching reality TV?

The political situation in the United States has been bad for a long time. But the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (who was ultimately replaced by Brett Kavanaugh) seemed to be the “this is real” moment for a lot of people.

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

For the last seven years, many of us heard a warning: “a storm is coming – get ready.” I have four major posts on this, in addition to discussing it on an on-going basis in other posts. And it isn’t just me… other knowledgeable, experienced Pagans and polytheists heard and saw and wrote about the same things.

Did you think we were making it up? Did you think Loki or Puck or some mischievous spirit was playing us for a laugh? Did you think the Gods were lying to us?

This was the most widely read post on Under the Ancient Oaks since “Adulting” in January 2016. It has more page views than the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th posts on this list combined. If I re-did the Top 10 Posts of All Time it would rank 5th, after less than six months.

I think most people understand the Gods weren’t lying to us. This post was popular because it confirmed what so many of us have been thinking and seeing for quite some time: the storm is here.

2018 has been a mixed year. It was better than 2017 and far better than the Year of Death (2016), but it was still a reminder that while the weather varies from day to day and year to year, the climate is shifting steadily in an unfavorable direction. And I’m not just talking about meteorology.

The good news is that where ever you turn, illusions are breaking. We now have no choice but to see the things we either couldn’t see or refused to see in the past. That’s painful, but when we see things as they are then we can begin doing what must be done to make them better.

Thank you for all your support this year. In 2019 may we grow deeper and stronger in our in our devotion, our magic, and our work in the ordinary world.

June 26, 2018

Friday is the 10th anniversary of Under the Ancient Oaks. I’ll have a special post talking about how I got started, my steps (and some missteps) in blogging, and where I see the blog going in the future.

Today I want to review the best of the blog – the Top 10 posts of all time, as measured by pageviews.

I have pageview statistics by post since I moved to Patheos in January 2013. For the Blogger era, all I have are monthly totals. But given the extremely low traffic during that time, I’m confident the list is accurate. Three of the Top 10 were written for Blogger.

As with the annual Top 10 lists, I’m excluding the solitary ritual series. If I didn’t, Samhain would be 4th, Winter Solstice 6th, Imbolc 7th, and Summer Solstice 9th.

Here are the Top 10 posts of all time on Under the Ancient Oaks.

10. The Call of the Morrigan (July 2012). This wasn’t the first time I wrote about the Great Queen, but it was the most timely. You’ll noticed I dropped the “the” from Her name in the post. I didn’t think it fit. I don’t remember when I finally realized that didn’t matter – She was known as the Morrigan in ancient times, and She wants to be known as the Morrigan in our times.

Sadly, the conclusion to this post has proven prophetic.

I hope and pray I’m right and Morrigan is calling priestesses and priests to serve a new and growing Community of the Earth.

Because if I’m wrong, then she’s preparing an army of Ravens to clean up the mess we’re going to make in clinging to a myth and a lifestyle that can’t be supported very much longer.

The Morrigan Devotional Ritual at this year’s Mystic South Conference is titled “A Gathering of Ravens.” Because that’s what She wants. Because that’s what our current situation calls for.

9. Druids and Their Robes (October 2012). At the 2012 OBOD East Coast Gathering, several of us got to talking about what we wear for ritual. I persuaded several people to write a paragraph about what they wear and why, combined it with some pictures, and loaded it on Blogger.

You don’t have to have a robe to be a Druid. As I said in the post, never let the lack of magical clothing keep you from attending a Druid or similar event, or from participating as fully as you can. Robes are nice but they aren’t necessary. But like magical tools and jewelry, robes help put us in the right frame of mind for ritual and magic. They help us express who we are and what we’re striving to become.

with the late James Bianchi and Kimberly Kirner at the 2012 OBOD East Coast Gathering

8. The Cernunnos Ritual (August 2013). My ritual recaps tend to not be well read. This one is the notable exception. It’s the story of our first ecstatic ritual in honor of Cernunnos. I  didn’t write this ritual so much as I transcribed it – this is what He wanted, so it’s what we did. As recaps go this one is pretty good, but it can’t compare to being there.

We performed this ritual twice more in 2013, at the OBOD East Coast Gathering and at the DFW Pagan Pride Day. Last year we performed an updated version at Beltane, and another version at the Beyond the Gates retreat.

I’m sure we’ll do it again before too long…

7. Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here (March 2016). For years, many of us heard our Gods warning us “there’s a storm coming – get ready.” In March of 2016 – before the election, when Trump himself still didn’t expect to win – it became apparent that the storm was here.

John Michael Greer calls it The Long Descent. Byron Ballard calls it Tower Time. It’s not Mercury Retrograde – it’s not going to be over in three weeks. This is the new reality. We can pretend it doesn’t exist and hope for the best, or we can deal with it head-on.

I prefer to deal with it.

6. The Dark Side of Druidry (October 2014). Modern Druidry is usually associated with Nature spirituality and Celtic heritage. Druids are poets, songwriters, and storytellers. Druids plant gardens and protest fracking. It’s not the Lorax but the Druids who speak for the trees. Druidry is light and peaceful and nice.

But there are times we can’t be nice. How can we be nice in the face of environmental destruction? How can we be nice in the face of injustice and the abuse of power? How can we be nice in the face of oppression? How can we be nice in the face of criminal threats?

The Druids of old fought alongside their warriors, not with swords and spears but with their bardic skills and with magic. So can we.

5. Letter To My Christian Friends (June 2015). My Christian friends tend to agree with my reverence for Nature. Some of them smile politely when I talk about magic, while others ask me to work magic for them. But when I begin talking about the worship of many Gods, some of them get angry.

I want my Christian friends to remain friends. I want them to know I have no need or desire to convert them or anyone else. But this is who I am, this is what I believe and what I do, and why.

4. The Otherworld is Bleeding Through (June 2016). Early one morning two years ago, I saw a green glowing bird. It was something that could not be, but there it was. All attempts to explain it away failed – I couldn’t pretend I didn’t see what I saw.

I still don’t know if this was an Otherworldly bird that found its way into our world, or if it was an ordinary bird that found its way into place where the Otherworld intersected with our world. I tend to think the latter. But I’m convinced this isn’t a one-time thing. It’s part of a long-term shift in reality and we’d best figure out how we’re going to deal with it.

3. The Purpose of Religion (November 2011). This is the oldest post on this list. It never got much traction when it was new, but people keep finding it through Google searches. It’s written from a very UU perspective – I would write this post rather differently today. But I’m still happy with it.

Not everybody’s religion has the same purpose. Some use religion to blame all their problems on other people. Some use religion to make themselves feel good. But others use religion to challenge themselves to learn and grow, so they can serve others and the common good.

2. Dude, It’s You (May 2014). This was my first post to “go viral” to a mainstream audience. In May of 2014, a misogynistic “incel” murdered 6 people and injured 13 others.  He was angry because women wouldn’t have sex with him.

This was my first exposure to men’s rights activists. I assumed they were fathers who got the short end of divorce settlements and were angry over it, with varying degrees of justification. I found out I was rather naïve. There are some seriously screwed up men out there spreading some seriously screwed up ideas – ideas that have dangerous consequences for women, that are unhelpful for men, and that piss me off.

Our hypermasculine culture sets unrealistic expectations and encourages men to see women as sex objects to be conquered instead of as neighbors, co-workers, and friends. All too often it is deadly for women and it’s no friend of the vast majority of men. It’s long past time for it to change to a culture built on mutual respect.

And if you can’t see that, dude, the problem is you.

1. “Adulting” Is an Indictment of Society, Not of Millennials (January 2016). This is another post that went viral to a mainstream audience. It’s the most widely read post not just on Under the Ancient Oaks, but for all of Patheos Pagan.

Criticizing Millennials for using adult as a verb isn’t a valid complaint, but the whole concept of adulting is an indictment of our mainstream society. Millennials and others who don’t want to adult aren’t being immature. They just don’t like the mainstream society’s definition of “adult.” And sooner or later, they’re going to change it.

December 27, 2017

These are the top ten posts of this year, as measured by page views. Only 2017 posts are listed. The Solitary Ritual series ranks high every year but they were written in 2014 and 2015 – they aren’t eligible.

Blog traffic has been good this year. Patheos management made some server upgrades and some improvements to search engine optimization that has more than made up for what we lost with the Facebook algorithm changes of mid-2016. On the other hand, I haven’t had a post “go viral” this year. In absolute numbers, all 10 posts in this 2017 list would have ranked higher than 4 but lower than 3 in the 2016 list.

I find that fascinating, but I imagine most of you just want to see what’s on this year’s list. So here they are: the top 10 posts of 2017 on Under the Ancient Oaks.

Top 10 of 2017

10. The Otherworld Needs to be Experienced, Not Escaped (October 2017). The Big Tent of Paganism is big enough for all kinds of beliefs. But when people who call themselves Pagans describe the land of the Gods and ancestors as “escapism” that demands a response.

I’ve seen the Otherworld. I’ve had first-hand experiences of Gods and spirits that are more real than anything in this world. Those experiences changed the way I see this world and the way I live in this world. My life is better for these experiences, and not in a small way.

9. 7 Spiritual Practices for Difficult Times (May 2017). If we are consistent with spiritual practice when times are good, we will build a foundation that will support us when times are bad.

These are the spiritual practices that work for me in difficult times. They won’t prevent bad things from happening – nothing will do that. They don’t keep me from getting upset or stressed or stuck. But they help me regain my center faster and they help me respond to difficult times in the ways I want to respond.

8. The Inspiration of Badass Park Rangers (January 2017). One of Trump’s first acts was to ban government agencies from communicating with the public. He wants to control their message and suppress inconvenient facts. But the people at the EPA, FDA, NASA, and the National Park Service don’t work for Trump – they work for us, and they decided to do their jobs anyway. They set up alternate twitter accounts and continued doing the work we pay them to do. And that started a Facebook meme:

First they came for the scientists…

And the National Parks Services said, “lol, no” and went rogue and we were all like “I was not expecting the park rangers to lead the resistance, none of the dystopian novels I read prepared me for this but cool.”

You don’t have be a hero. Just take inspiration from the badass park rangers and do whatever it is that you do best.

Glacier Bay National Park 2011

7. Spiritual Treatment Is No Substitute For Mental Health Care (March 2017). Pagans like to think of ourselves as better educated, more open minded, and less judgmental than everybody else. But too many of us jump to wrong conclusions because they’re nice and easy, or we reject mainstream treatments because they’re part of the mainstream and we want to be countercultural. So we suffer needlessly and we commit spiritual malpractice by encouraging others to avoid necessary treatment.

Spiritual practice is no substitute for proper mental health care. This isn’t a difference of opinion. This isn’t a case of “agree to disagree.” This is a wrong and dangerous belief that I see too often in Pagan and alternative spirituality circles.

Spiritual treatment is no substitute for proper mental health care.

6. When You Hear The Call of The Morrigan (July 2017). Of all the deities that are moving in our world, the Morrigan is perhaps the most active. Many people are hearing Her call. But what do you do when you hear it?

Begin a devotional practice. Read good books about Her. Reclaim your sovereignty – rule your own life and resist those who would control you for their own purposes. Find your place – the call of the Morrigan is almost always a call to service. Do the work She puts in front of you. Share your experiences – people are craving knowledge of Her. And stay with it – this is hard work in hard times, and it isn’t going to be over any time soon.

There are many ways to respond. This is one way, but it’s a way that’s been shown to work.

5. It Ain’t Necessarily So: Five Falsehoods in the Pagan Community (October 2017). In October there was a trend going around to write a blog post listing ideas that are popular in the Pagan community that aren’t as true as we like to think. While some things aren’t worth fighting over, it didn’t take long for me to come up with five things I hear on a regular basis that are like fingernails on a chalkboard. Some of them are more half-truths than outright lies, but all of them are troublesome ideas that need to be challenged.

Religion isn’t all about what you believe. Deep down all religions aren’t the same. Interfering with other people’s free will not only isn’t the greatest sin, it’s a regular and necessary occurrence. Everything is not sacred. And yes, sometimes we do need priests.

BTG 2017 50

4. The Call of the Morrigan is Louder and More Urgent (January 2017). Many of us have heard the call of the Morrigan over the past six years or so. Early this year that call got louder and even more demanding. The storm She warned us was coming is now here.

There are literal battles going on right now. There are metaphorical battles going on right now. There are metaphysical battles going on right now. For those of us who hear the call of the Morrigan, it’s time to join them. Choose your weapon. And know the difference between the enemy and those who are fighting on your side in a different function or service.

Gather your gear. Buckle on your armor. Pick up your weapons. The order to engage is imminent.

3. The Aesthetic of Witchcraft and the Return of Real Magic (November 2017). There have always been witches – people who use magic for unauthorized purposes. Today, those who feel threatened and excluded by those in power are attracted to the image of the witch and to the forms of witchcraft. And since there’s no risk of being burned at the stake, more and more people are not only willing to visit the witch, but to call themselves witches – even though their witchcraft is mostly a fashion choice. This is upsetting some people for whom witchcraft is serious business.

But witchcraft survived literal witch hunters – it will survive this too. And the publicity is good. Those of us who practice real magic need to be concerned with welcoming and teaching those who want more from their witchcraft than a fashion trend.

2. Why I’m Not Participating in the Mass Binding of Donald Trump and What I’m Doing Instead (February 2017). In his first month in office, Trump attacked refugees and immigrants, tried to silence scientists, removed federal protection for transgendered students, tried to silence the press, and appointed a cabinet dedicated to destroying public education, prioritizing economic exploitation over environmental protection, and ending net neutrality. It is no surprise that many witches and other magical practitioners decided to combine forces to oppose him.

But the group working that got the most publicity was poorly timed and even more poorly constructed. I declined to participate in it. But I’m not sitting out – I’m doing my own combination of magic and mundane action.

1. The Re-emergence of the Fair Folk in the Ordinary World (March 2017). The Fair Folk never really went away. Perhaps they came into this world less often, but mainly we stopped noticing them. Now we’re seeing them, hearing them, and feeling the impact of their presence on an increasingly frequent basis. We’d best pay attention.

Not only was this the most widely read post of the year by a considerable margin, it generated a ton of comments, some on the blog and many more on Facebook. Some criticized my North American / Celtic-centric approach, while others suggested that the changes aren’t with the Good Neighbors or with the Otherworld but within ourselves. Those criticisms have merit, and I addressed them in a follow-up post titled What’s Changing: The World or Us?

Ultimately I don’t know who’s right or to what degree. But I do know our world is changing rapidly and not for the better. We need the help of all our allies, which means we need to be allies worthy of help. The Fair Folk are re-emerging in the ordinary world. Take the time to learn a thing or two about them so they will be more likely to see you as an honorable person who they can deal with honorably.

07 06d Faerie Fort

In 2016 it seemed like a new horror was dropping on us every week. 2017 has been less shocking, but only because the reality of the times has started to sink in. This is the new normal.

The good news is that more and more people are realizing that things don’t just get better on their own. It takes work. More people are engaged: some politically, but others magically and religiously.

Who can stand against us when we align ourselves with the currents of Nature? Who can stand against us when we ally ourselves with our Good Neighbors in honor and respect? Who can stand against us when rank upon rank of mighty ancestors surround us? And who can stand against us when we ally ourselves with the Gods?

Thank you for all your support this year. Here’s to a year of deeper practice, stronger devotion, and more powerful magic in 2018.

December 5, 2017

I’ve been writing a lot of serious stuff lately and I need a break. So let’s do something fun.

What is Pagan music?

Is it the songs and instruments of our ancestors? Is it inspirational and devotional music for Pagans? Perhaps it’s the artistic exploration of Pagan themes. Maybe it’s music made by Pagans. Or perhaps it’s just music Pagans like. A good case can be made for any and all of these definitions.

I use recorded music in most of my rituals. Some of it’s for devotional offerings, but most is for background music, played while we’re doing something non-verbal. Occasionally I make playlists dedicated to a particular deity or theme. And because I’m a geek, I plan these playlists in spreadsheets.

I combined 21 playlists from the past 11 years into one big spreadsheet, then pivoted by artist and album. The cut from 71 albums down to 16 was easy. Cutting down to the final 10 was hard. But it’s a Top 10 list, so that’s what I did.

Please note the qualifier at the beginning of the title: this is my Top 10 list. I’m not a music critic or historian, and this isn’t a list of the “best” or “most influential” albums in the Pagan world. This is my list of the albums I like and have played a lot in ritual. Your list will be different, and different is good.

So, in no particular order (mostly), here are my Top 10 Pagan albums of all time.

I only have CDs for two of the Top 10 - my younger self is very sad
I only have CDs for two of the Top 10 – everything else is a digital download. My younger self is very sad.

Damh the Bard:  Spirit of Albion  (2006). I said there was no particular order, but Spirit of Albion has to be first. Damh started writing songs so we’d have something Pagan to sing around the campfire, and I’ve definitely used them in that spirit. The title song is perhaps the most rousing anthem in all of Paganism. “Morrighan” is a haunting devotion to the Battle Raven. “Noon on the Solstice” was Damh’s first song to the Horned Gods, and “Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet” would partially inspire this year’s bardic offering Y Mabinogi.

There are no weak songs on Spirit of Albion, just good ones and better ones. I’ve played music from all of Damh’s albums at one time or another, but this is the one I use most of all.

Damh the Bard in concert at the 2015 OBOD East Coast Gathering
Damh the Bard in concert at the 2015 OBOD East Coast Gathering

Pandemonaeon:  Dangerous Beauty  (2010). Pandemonaeon is Sharon Knight’s plugged-in rock band. The instruments are positively powerful, and while Sharon’s vocals are always good, here they’re haunting. Some of the songs aren’t strictly Pagan, but others are very much so: the lyrics to “Heart Girt With A Serpent” come straight from Aleister Crowley.

This album turned up near the top of this list because I’ve used “Queen of Shadows” in devotions to the Morrigan so often. And “The Goat Is On The Pole” is a fast and fun instrumental piece that’s great for finishing off a Maypole dance. But mainly, I love listening to it. Dangerous Beauty fits all the definitions of Pagan music I listed at the beginning of the post. For listening (as opposed to playing in ritual) this may be the best of the Top 10.

Dead Can Dance:  The Serpent’s Egg  (1988). Wikipedia calls Dead Can Dance “Neoclassical dark wave” and that’s fairly accurate. Their music isn’t explicitly Pagan, but I know a lot of Pagans who like it. There isn’t anything better for setting a ritual atmosphere before beginning something deep and introspective.

I could have chosen any of their albums. I picked The Serpent’s Egg primarily because of “The Host of Seraphim.” Before Denton CUUPS’ first Spiral Labyrinth at Samhain 2011, I was unusually nervous, almost agitated. “The Host of Seraphim” was our prelude. I turned it on and closed my eyes. Six minutes and 18 seconds later I was in the proper frame of mind for the ritual, and so was everyone else.

S.J. Tucker:  Blessings  (2007). S.J. Tucker is a brilliant singer-songwriter whose “fun and filk” music is popular with a lot of Pagans. Most of it is too light for my tastes. But not Blessings – it’s plainly Pagan… so much so there’s a warning on her website that it “may not be appropriate for all audiences.” But “for those that are open to alternative spiritual paths, this album is not to be missed.” Truth in advertising is a good thing.

“For Love of All Who Gather” is an invocation. “Witches’ Rune” is a beautiful exposition of Wiccan ritual. “Come To The Labyrinth” is renewing and inspiring. And while “Hymn to Herne” is a cute and sexy song, it has a serious element to it. The video below is old and the talking part is hard to hear. Turn your speakers up, watch S.J.’s facial expressions, and hear her struggle to not get choked up when she says “and he showed up.”

Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir:  Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares  (1975). This is a collection of Bulgarian folk songs performed by a large and talented women’s choir. I picked it up in a used CD store in the mid-1990s because some of it had been used in the Xena: Warrior Princess TV show. I listened to it a few times and liked it, but then I put it in my CD rack and forgot about it. When I went looking for ritual music for Samhain 2011 I was very glad I had it.

The harmonies are beautiful, and because Bulgarian is so different from English it has a very mysterious sound to it. If these aren’t authentic pre-Christian songs of Bulgaria and Thrace, they could be. I’ve used it in some of our Samhain rituals and in our 2015 Rite of Hermes.

There have been three similar albums released by this same project. Volume 2 won a Grammy Award in 1989.

Damh the Bard:  The Cauldron Born  (2008). This album is for all those who’ve said finding Paganism is like coming home. It has two rousing anthems. “The Cauldron Born” says we’re not alone:

“You feel so lonely, Come with me and let me show, There are others just like you.”

“Land, Sky and Sea” could be the theme song for Nature-centered Paganism, and “Pagan Ways” tells the mainstream TV culture that we’re different and we’re happy about it.

Sharon Knight:  Neofolk Romantique  (2013). The Sex Pistols made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the basis of only one album. Neofolk Romantique makes it onto this list on the basis of only one song: “Fire in the Head.” It’s based on a Welsh legend that says anyone who sleeps on a certain mountain will wake either mad, dead, or a poet. Both the lyrics and the music are simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.

“The screaming hag that rides the wind
Will rip the soul right from your skin
The hollow hills will swallow you
And flay apart your mind
To win the kiss of the gifted ones
We risk our lives on the mountain front
There’s some wake mad, and some wake dead
And some will rise with a fire in their head.”

“Mistress of MacLyr” is an original devotion to the sea and the God of the Sea, and “The Captain’s Flask” is another short fun instrumental piece. The rest are traditional Celtic folks songs and sea shanties. They’re good, but they’re not really what I think of when I want Pagan music. But “Fire in the Head” is enough to put this album on my Top 10 list all by itself.

Faith And The Muse:  :Ankoku Butoh:  (2009). Faith and the Muse is a dark wave collaboration between William Faith and Monica Richards. This album has a Japanese theme and uses Taiko drums extensively. This is powerful, driving music.

If you want a mysterious torchlight procession, play Dead Can Dance. If you want to call people to rise up and fight, play “Battle Hymn” “When We Go Dark” and “Sovereign” from :Ankoku Butoh:.

Their 1996 album Annwyn, Beneath the Waves has a Celtic theme and includes songs to Arianrhod, Rhiannon, and Cernunnos. I’ve used some of that music in ritual too. But top to bottom :Ankoku Butoh: is their best album, and their most powerful.

Omnia:  PaganFolk  (2006). Omnia is a “Neoceltic” Pagan band from the Netherlands that has had a variety of members and instruments over the years. Their music has changed a lot too, from Celtic and Neoceltic at their beginning to the environmentalist emphasis of their more current stuff.

They can be more show than music, and their last couple of albums have been rather preachy. For me, PaganFolk was their “just right” phase. Much of it isn’t in English, but the sound is perfect for light background music. “Tine Bealtaine” and “Dil Gaya” are regular choices for our Maypole Dance.

Sharon Knight and T. Thorn Coyle:  Songs for the Waning Year  (2008). Pagan chants shouldn’t be dirges, but for many years most all of them were. This is a collection of 22 short songs that can be incorporated into your rituals. We’ve used “Ancestor Chant” “Beyond the Gates” “Come All Who Hunger” and “Prayer for the Dead” as interactive chants. Just teach them to everyone before the ritual begins, and as long as you’ve got a couple of strong singers to carry the tune, everyone else can follow along.

Sharon and Thorn also did Songs for the Strengthening Sun in 2009. It’s good too, but I like Songs for the Waning Year better.

rehearsing “Come All Who Hunger” before a Denton CUUPS ritual

The 6 that didn’t make the cut

Enya:  The Celts  (1986).
Loreena McKennitt:  The Visit  (1991).
Loreena McKennitt:  The Mask and the Mirror  (1994).
Wendy Rule:  The Wolf Sky  (2006).
Faun:  Eden  (2011).
Blood Ceremony:  Living With the Ancients  (2011).

I love all this music, and I’ve used a lot from the first five of these albums as background music in rituals and in my personal practice.

Enya’s popularity with the New Age crowd is no reason for Pagans to avoid her. I saw Loreena McKennitt in concert last year and she was awesome. I don’t do much Wicca-based ritual anymore, but I’d still like to find a way to do a live version of Wendy Rule’s “The Circle Song” and “Elemental Chant” in a group ritual.

Faun is similar to the best of Omnia but with a more consistent sound. For some reason I don’t have their Midgard album from last year – I need to fix that. And Blood Ceremony isn’t serious Pagan music, but its 70s metal / Hammer Films vibe is a lot of fun.

I could have put any of these in the Top 10 list (especially Eden or The Visit) but then I would have had to take one of the Top 10 out.

December 29, 2016

On Monday I gave you the four best posts you didn’t read. Now here are the top ten you did read.

These are the top ten posts of this year, as measured by page views. Only 2016 posts are listed. The Purpose of Religion from 2011 was the #5 post overall (it was the #3 post last year) but it wasn’t eligible. These are the top ten that I posted this year and that you read this year.

Top 10 of 2016 600x300

10. Racism Cannot Be Tolerated (January 2016). The drive for ideological purity – from the left as well as from the right – has wounded political debate and made good, pragmatic governance almost impossible. There are very few issues where hard lines must be drawn and no compromise is possible. Racism is one of those issues.

9. Our Gods Are Not Jealous Gods (June 2016). I’m a Druid who mostly worships and works with Celtic deities. But every year at Summer Solstice I take off my Druid robe, put on a plain white tunic, and serve as a priest of the Neteru – the Gods of Egypt.

Jealousy is not a virtue. Its roots are not in love and power, but in possessiveness and insecurity. It seeks a relationship of control and often abuse, not one of respect and reciprocity. As long as the Celtic Gods get what They want, they don’t mind me working with Gods from other lands.

8. Beginning a Devotional Practice (January 2016). When someone asks for suggestions on getting started in Paganism or polytheism, one of the first things I recommend is to begin a devotional practice. Choose a deity, create an altar, pray, meditate, make offerings, study, and do devotional reading. Listen. Start with one or two practices, then add more as you progress.

There is no substitute for a consistent, reverent, devotional practice.

Danu 09.07.14 01 600x300

7. The Veil Is Shredded (November 2016). The Veil is the boundary and the barrier between the ordinary world and the Otherworld, the world of the Gods and ancestors. Modern Pagan tradition says it is thinnest at Samhain and Beltane, at the liminal times when Summer changes to Winter and vice versa. But many of us are seeing this kind of crossover year-round. Otherworldly beings and influences are bleeding over into the ordinary world at an ever-increasing rate and many of them aren’t particularly pleasant or benign.

6. I Do Believe In Mercury Retrograde! I Do, I Do, I Do! (September 2016). I never put much stock in astrology and for most of my life I’ve been able to safely ignore Mercury retrograde. If I’m at 80% of my normal writing effectiveness, I can still get my message across. So most times when Mercury goes retrograde, I may have a slight drop-off, but not enough to cause problems. If I write when I’m sick, it’s not as good as normal, but it’s still good enough.

But put the two together and all of a sudden I’m writing at 60% effectiveness. Now the message isn’t getting across. In September, Mercury retrograde slapped me upside the head – now I have no choice but to believe in it.

5. An Imbolc Meditation (January 2016). The season from January 2 to Imbolc is the perfect time for review, introspection, planning, and new beginnings. We’re past the Solstice and the commotion of all the December holidays. The cold weather slows us down and keeps us inside. As we celebrate Imbolc, let us use this cold, slow time of the year to prepare ourselves for a warm, vibrant Spring.

4. 4 Steps to a Deeper Pagan Practice (January 2016). If we’re looking for something to make our lives better in a new year, there are few things more helpful than deepening our religious and spiritual practices. There is no such thing as certainty in religion – make a choice. Challenge the assumptions of the mainstream society and build a strong foundation. Begin a devotional practice. And keep it up – persistence is an important virtue.

Hot Springs 2015 70 600x300 posterized

3. Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here (March 2016). 2016 got off to an ominous start with multiple prominent deaths, unusually deadly weather, and the rise of Trump. By March, it was clear to many of us that the warnings of “a storm is coming” were over – the storm was here. The rest of the year showed that was true.

The situation is extremely complicated and it’s bigger than any of us. Attempts to boil it down to one or two factors are not helpful. I don’t like it, but we’re going to have to deal with it. And if we’re going to deal with it, we’re going to have to take care of ourselves and build our tribes.

There was a big jump from #4 to #3 – this post had over three times as many views as the one above it. Clearly, it resonated with a lot of people.

2. The Otherworld is Bleeding Through (June 2016). On an early morning walk in June, I saw a green glowing bird. It should not exist, but there it was. I worked through every possible “rational explanation” I could think of: an escaped parrot, a bird that had been covered in paint, a toy out of place, unusual light interactions, and more. I was left with the conclusion that either this was an Otherworldly bird, or it was an ordinary bird sitting in a place where the Veil Between the Worlds (see Top Post #7 above) was wide open – the Otherworld is bleeding through into this world.

The stories of our ancestors tell us that the Otherworld used to be much closer to the ordinary world. That changed with the beginning of civilization and technology. Now the Otherworld is bleeding over into the ordinary world once again, and it’s bringing things a lot more troublesome than green glowing birds. How long until our GPS apps start to warn us “here be dragons”?

1. “Adulting” is an Indictment of Society, Not of Millennials (January 2016). This post went viral into a mainstream audience. Within a week it became my most popular post ever – Jason Mankey tells me it’s now the most widely read post in the history of the entire Pagan channel.

The idea that the younger generation is always screwing things up has been going on since the ancient Greeks complained of “luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise.” We’re seeing that now with the near-incessant bashing of Millennials – bashing that is unfair and misplaced. Millennials and others who don’t want to adult aren’t being immature. They just don’t like the mainstream society’s definition of “adult.” And sooner or later, they’re going to change it.

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2016 has been a difficult year. Too many people who were important to us died, both famous people and people who were our close friends. The Pagan and polytheist communities spent too much time fighting among ourselves, and too much of that fighting was personal and mean-spirited. Xenophobia isn’t just being expressed by some in this country, it’s being celebrated. And Trump.

I hope 2017 will be better, but I have little confidence that it will. I do have confidence that we will persevere in honoring Nature and the Gods, in building strong and resilient tribes and communities, and in caring for ourselves and each other.

Thank you for your friendship and your support. It is needed, it is helpful, and it is appreciated.

December 28, 2015

Last week I gave you the four best posts you didn’t read. Now here are the top ten you did read.

These are the top ten posts of this year, as measured by page views. Only 2015 posts are listed. The Purpose of Religion from 2011 was the #3 post overall, but it wasn’t eligible. Also, I disqualified the solitary ritual series. Five of them were in the top ten, and that would make this post rather boring.

Top 10 of 2015

10. Worshipping Fearsome Gods (November 2015). Many of you don’t like the word “sermon,” but that’s what you call the talky bit in a church service, and that’s what this was. I even have a video of it. Anyway, my sermons tend to do very poorly as blog posts. They’re far longer than a typical post, and they’re written for an audience of UUs and visitors, not Pagans and polytheists.  But this one did very well. I think that’s because while it was intended for a general audience, it was unapologetically polytheist.

tree and ruins - Ephesus 20129. The Lore vs. UPG – A False Dichotomy (March 2015). There are some Pagans who privilege the written word over personal experience, insisting that unless something has a basis in literature and scholarship, it isn’t proper. I see this as a false dichotomy. Lore is a valuable treasure, but unless we have vibrant religious experiences of our own, our traditions will stagnate into irrelevance.

8. Until There Are No More Missionaries (September 2015). As I left the DFW Pagan Unity Fest, I encountered a man preaching a fringe-Christian message of fear and doom. When it became clear he was beyond the reach of reason, I walked away. But I worried about others who would hear his lies and be reminded of an old religion that still had its hooks in them. I wanted to banish him, but I couldn’t. All I can do is to keep telling my story of leaving fundamentalist Christianity and finding Paganism, and keep doing it until there are no more false preachers of doom.

7. The Limits of Personal Power and The Dangers of Ignoring Them (February 2015). We’ve all seen the posts and memes saying things like “you create your own reality” “anything is possible if you just believe” and “you have unlimited power.” While even the weakest among us is an incredibly powerful being, the memes are only half true. Our power is not unlimited, and pretending it is causes us to act ineffectively with ourselves and unethically with others. Stop looking for simple answers to complicated problems and start seeing things as they truly are.

Horus 06.07.156. You Can’t Practice Paganism While You Look Down Your Nose At It (August 2015). Our mainstream society thinks belief in magic and in many Gods is delusion or foolishness or both. While Paganism does not insist we hold any specific beliefs, if we are more interested in impressing the mainstream and in being “respectable” than in actually being Pagans, our Paganism will be weak and ineffective.

5. Religion and Smart People – A Reasonable Response to Unreasonable Smugness (January 2015). This is another rebuttal to an atheist making insulting claims, in this case not just about Paganism but about theism in general. A writer for Salon called religious belief “a strange aberration among otherwise intelligent people.” The writer’s false and unstated assumptions are huge: he assumes religion is all about belief, he makes scientistic materialism the ultimate arbiter of what is true, and most importantly, he completely ignores religious experiences. Don’t try to tell me I need to abandon a path that’s proved meaningful and helpful just because some people believe some dumb things and some smart people don’t believe anything at all.

4. 5 Reasons You Can’t Find the Right Spiritual Path (July 2015). Religion used to be simple. You learned the religion of your family growing up and that was that. That’s still the case in some parts of the world. Here, more options bring more freedom but also more complexity. Finding the right spiritual path is possible, but it requires dedicated, consistent, mindful work. This post looks at the five most common reasons seekers can’t find what they’re looking for, and what to do instead.

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3. Responding to the Religiously Obnoxious (April 2015). It seems like at least once a week I see a post in one of my social media groups saying “people keep attacking me because I’m Pagan – what can I do about it?”  Many of them are young, stuck in schools and even families that are unsupportive, with few outside resources available to them.  The usual clichés of “just ignore them” and “don’t let it bother you” aren’t helpful. There are things we can do to make things better, starting with being who you are and who you’re called to be.

2. Our Gods Are Not Safe (October 2015). In order to fully restore the Way of the Gods, polytheism must be accessible for those who simply want to honor the Gods and live virtuous but ordinary lives. It must be as accessible for the accountant and the plumber as for the priest and the scholar. This means expressing polytheist concepts in ways that ordinary people who live in our monotheist-dominated culture can understand.

But it can never mean dumbing things down. In particular, it can never mean downplaying the power of the Gods who are the focus of our polytheism. Our Gods are not safe… but safety is not the greatest good.

1. Letter To My Christian Friends (June 2015). I’m pretty open about who I am and what I do. My Christian friends and family mostly ignore my Paganism, but while they often nod in agreement with my reverence for Nature and smile politely with my esoteric practices, this year I had several get upset with my worship of many Gods. This was my attempt to tell them what I believe and why.

This was far and away the most popular post of 2015 – it had almost as many page views as #2, #3, and #4 combined. The comments show this post spoke both to and for a lot of people who’ve struggled with reactions to their Paganism.

My own Christian friends and family pretty much ignored this post, though I’m sure many of them read it. I’m fine with that. I hope it cleared up some of their misunderstandings.  But I closed with a line from the Christian reformer Martin Luther: here I stand – I can do no other.

Thank you all for your support in 2015. Here’s to another great year of Paganism, polytheism, and Druidry (and some Unitarian Universalism) in 2016.

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