(I turn 40 on Friday, January 4, which has put me in a rather self-indulgent mood. So in honor of my self-indulgence I bring you 40 nuggets of wisdom and/or opinions I’ve cultivated during my Peter Pan-like existence this go of the wheel. Happy Birthday to me. Sorry for all the pictures of me through the years, but I thought it would be fun to include them. I promise that once my mid-life crisis is over I’ll return to posting more substantial things.)
1. Call the same stuff at all four quarters. One of my biggest pet peeves is an “unbalanced” circle. I don’t care what you call at the cardinal points, just call four of the same types of energy/beings/insert thing here. You can call spirits, elementals, Watchtowers, angels, etc etc., but as long as that’s all you call. Don’t call an angel in the East, a salamander in the South, a Watchtower in the West, and an “ice dragon” in the North. Please gods, make it stop.
2. We’re calling the quarters, we’ve gone over what we are doing, and you still called some random spirit guide in the North and spent eight minutes doing so. I was presenting at a festival several years ago and I was asked by the festival organizers to call one of the quarters. I wasn’t given a script or any instructions, I was just told to call to Fire for the opening ritual. Opening Rituals are pretty quick things too, it’s a welcome to the week’s (or weekend’s) event, they usually aren’t very elaborate. Twenty minutes before the ritual started I met with the other three quarter callers in an attempt to go over what we were all going to be doing for the ritual. We all agreed that we should just do a basic thing; “I call to the spirits of the ______, element of _____. Be with us this weekend, etc etc.” The guy calling East did just that, and I did that in the South. Things got a little bit wonky in the West, and then took a drastic left-hand turn in the North. You’re calling a quarter, the ritual is not about you, and you’ve created a circle with some really weird energy. Bravo attention seeker!
3. The ritual is about the ritual, it’s not about you. Seriously, the most important thing in the ritual is the ritual. I understand that you are one of the greatest thespians in the history of Pagandom, but people didn’t come here just to witness your performance. I get it, you can act, sing, or whatever, just move along with things please. Let’s get to the point where everyone in the circle gets to engage in something, or at least feel some emotion.
4. It sometimes does take a village to write a ritual. The best rituals tend to involve many people. Even a really good ritual writer can benefit from an outside source reading their words and making recommendations. What’s clear to me, may not be clear to you, etc. If someone says to you “I have a lot of experience leading group ritual, would you like me to take a look at your ritual and offer some constructive feedback?” your answer should always be yes. I’ve been leading large public ritual for over ten years, and every damn time someone looks over one of my rituals the whole thing gets better.
5. I’m sorry you find the Charge of the Goddess so boring, but to me it’s sacred liturgy. I sympathize with people who don’t like long “readings” during ritual. It can be a bit tedious sometimes (even when master thespian is helping out with things) but make an exception for Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess. As Pagans (and me as a Witch specifically) we don’t have a whole lot of liturgy, and the CoG just says so much about our faith in a matter of a few minutes, so listen, and stop the yawning.
6. You might think using a boom-box during ritual is a bit tacky, but I can count on my electronics always working. Yes, I know it’s cool to use live musicians during ritual. If I could somehow employ Jim Donovan or the Dragon Ritual Drummers to provide drumming at all of my rituals I’d leave the portable electronics at home, but that’s not really possible. My boom-box always works, and it never calls in sick. My Dragon Ritual Drummers CD also keeps impeccable time, and since I have the remote in my pocket it never misses a cue. It’s just one less thing to worry about in ritual, so I’m going to keep doing it.
7. I light my quarter candles before the ritual starts so I don’t have to fumble with it later. I’ve been in a lot of rituals where I’ve heard “Crap! We forgot to light the quarter candles” about the time we are getting ready to call the Goddess and God. It disrupts the whole ritual. Do you know what else disrupts the ritual? “I forgot the lighter” or “darn it I can’t get these matches to work.” Maybe it’s more showy to light candles during ritual, but it can also lead to more headaches. Best just to get it out of the way as early as possible.
8. When I’m outside I don’t even bother with candles, especially if it’s raining or windy. Too many times during ritual people will complain about things just not staying lit. If it’s not going to co-operate, why bother? I doubt whatever you are calling in the West is going to be disappointed there’s not a flame waiting for them in their honor.
9. Skyclad ritual is liberating. There’s something very fun and freeing about dancing (poorly) around your living room in the buff. It’s not for everyone, but it’s not sexual, and before you dismiss it, you should give it a go once or twice.
10. My favorite sabbat rituals to write, from first to last: Beltane, Samhain, Yule, Mabon, Ostara, Midsummer, Lughnassa, and Imbolc. I find Beltane the happiest, and most Pagan time of year. Samhain is certainly the most “witchy” sabbat and therefore fun to write rituals for. I have so many good memories associated with September and December that I like writing stuff those two months. In Michigan Ostara was the first part of the year that even hinted at Spring, so it will always have a special place in my heart. Perhaps it’s just how busy the Summer often is, but if I end up missing a sabbat, it’s always Lughnassa or Midsummer.
11. I don’t understand didgeridoos. You can play whatever kind of instrument you want, and you are certainly entitled to like whatever sounds you enjoy, but the popularity of didgeridoos at outdoor Pagan festivals baffles me. What happened to acoustic guitars?
12. I don’t listen to a lot of “Pagan Music.” I sometimes feel like less of a Pagan because of this. When faced with a choice of listening to a CD full of chants or the band Steel Panther I’m going to choose Steel Panther 99% of the time. Music is music, and I don’t give anything special consideration because it’s Pagan. To me music boils down to “is it good or not?” Sadly, there’s a lot of Pagan Music that I don’t consider good. Also, Jason desperately wants someone to start a Pagan hair-metal band. I’ll manage you, but since I have no musical talent, you’ll have to come up with the songs etc.
13. Speaking of hair-metal Pagan bands, I like that Pagan music is evolving. We do have Pagan Rock bands these days, and Celtic-tinged bands, and of course folk type music, and groups that obsess about drums. As there are more and more Pagans, there are more types of Pagan Music. Eventually, I’ll get that Pagan hair-metal band I want.
14. I’m not a huge fan of drum circles. There I said it, the most shocking revelation of all, I’m not a drum circle guy. I’ve had a bum-knee for most of my life so I don’t like to dance, also wounded gerbils have more rhythm than I do, so I don’t like to drum. Sure, the energy of a drum circle is often nice, but I’d much rather sit back with some cider and conversation at my campsite or in my hotel room. I don’t hate drum circles or anything, it’s just not the highlight of my week or weekend, and I certainly don’t want to go to a campout where that’s the complete focus. I’m a guitar guy, so sue me.
15. Despite my over-whelming lack of love for drum circles, I asked for a drum for my birthday. Since I feel like I might be missing out on something, and I have every other essential Pagan-related thing on the planet, I recently asked my wife about getting a drum. So many people swear by it, I thought I should give it a shot. If I ever bring that drum out in public, I apologize in advance for being out of time with everyone else.
16. My views on deity are constantly evolving. At various points in my life I’ve been a monotheist, a duotheist, and a polytheist. Lately I’ve been leaning towards Neo-Platonism, but that might change again in five years.
17. Evolving views on deity would make me a heretic in most other faiths, in Paganism they make me pretty normal. Sometimes the wishy-washiness of Modern Paganism bothers me, at other times I find it to be one of our greatest strengths. Instead of pretending to have all the answers, Modern Paganism is about evolution; evolution as a person, and evolution of belief. There’s no “one way” to experience deity, and no wrong way to believe. That’s why a hard-core polytheist and an atheist Pagan can share the same circle.
18. My Pan may not be your Pan. While my worship of Pan is a combination of historical research and personal experience, I certainly don’t have any stranglehold on the cloven hoofed truth. The gods are powerful and mysterious, and work in ways the human mind can’t totally comprehend. When how I see Pan doesn’t jive with someone else it’s not because they’re wrong, it’s because Pan reveals himself in different ways to different people. This is true for all the gods, and not just my horned pal.
20. Aphrodite is my favorite Goddess. In the ninth grade I made a Temple to Aphrodite in art-class. I thought that if I made a temple to Aphrodite and made offerings inside of it I would fall in love. I did fall in love with a girl named Marcy, but that love was not returned. I was a poor magician in my early teens. Before I was even a Pagan I felt the call of Aphrodite. I was destined to live this life and to have Aphrodite at the center of it.
BEST PAGAN EXPERIENCES
21. My Gardnarian Initiation was the most transformative thing that has happened to me since initially stepping on the Pagan Path. I can’t really tell you much about it, but several days after it was over my wife (who was also initiated that night) said to me “Does everything seem different to you, or is it just me?” I told her that yes, everything did look different, and has continued to since that night.
22. The best ritual I’ve ever been a part of was the Samhain Ritual I did last November. There are rituals which are sometimes all you want and imagine them to be, this was one of those. Nary a flubbed line, and everyone who went to the ritual seemed to experience something. Just an amazing night, and now a few months later my wife and I keep talking about it.
23. I dedicated myself to the gods in a corn-field in Missouri surrounded by a bunch of Deadheads. It was destined to be the last Grateful Dead tour ever, and while I didn’t get tickets to the show, I did end up camping with a few thousand Deadheads. That weekend marked my first Pagan Year and a Day and in the middle of it I did a self-dedication ritual. In retrospect it wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but it was still a cool atmosphere to do something like that in.
24. Some of my favorite Pagan moments not in a ritual circle have taken place outside on a blanket with my wife. You might be thinking naughty things here, and you might possibly be right to do so, but there’s something special about being outside under the light of a full moon with your magickal partner. I remember some of those nights with complete clarity. Away from the city, the night-sky the spectacle it seldom is in town, and my wife reading The Charge of the Goddess to me in the darkness. Awesome.
25. I love “talking shop.” I can talk about Pagan history for hours, seriously. I have a lot of good memories about doing just that at various festivals, gatherings, and post-ritual feastings. If you ever have two hours of your life to spare ask me if Gerald Gardner was really initiated back in 1939. I’ll tell you “yes” and somehow turn that one word answer into a 50 page college term paper.
ME AND MY GODS
26. The gods I feel closest to are Pan, Dionysus, Cernunnos, Kokopelli, and Shiva. I feel so close to those deities that I often address them with nicknames and sometimes think of them more like “friends” than cosmic powers.
27. I’m probably calling two of those gods by the wrong names. Cernunnos is a Latin term meaning “Horned One.” As a Celtic god I have to assume that he also has a Celtic name that’s been lost to history. Cernunnos is not what most Celts would have called him, but it’s all we’ve got in 2013. Kokopelli is a corruption of Kookopölö, a Hopi kachina.
28. Out of those five gods, I don’t invite two of them in public ritual. Shiva is a Hindu god, and I’m not sure how comfortable he’d be in a Wiccan circle, as a result I only honor him privately, or at ceremonies which reflect Hindu tradition. Kokopelli is Native American, and again, I don’t feel comfortable inserting him into my (mostly) Western European in origin religious practice.
29. Two of those gods have no mythology surrounding them. While Kookopölö appears in a lot of Hopi myths (most of them phallic in nature, yay!), the Kokopelli figure most of us know does not. Cernunnos is the same way. We know certain things about both of those gods based on how they were depicted, but we don’t have any ancient stories about them.
30. There’s a weird synergy to those five gods, mostly. Since they are both Greek, it’s easy to link Pan and Dionysus up, and Pan was often a part of Dionysus’s retinue. Dionysus has often been compared to Shiva, and early versions of Shiva depict him in ways very similar to how the Celts depicted Cernunnos. The one god that doesn’t link up to the rest is Kokopelli, even though he’s phallic and musical. Stupid oceans (not really, I love you oceans).
PAGAN FESTIVALS AND SUCH
31. I often don’t understand the programming choices at Pagan Festivals. For the last year I’ve been working on a presentation about Magick in America before the Modern Pagan Revival. It was full of stuff about Mormons (seriously), Pennsylvania Dutch Grimoires, The Church of Aphrodite in the 1930’s, and Spiritualism. It got rejected by one of the big festivals I go to. I couldn’t believe it. I was expecting 150 people to show up to this thing, and they must have expected me to have five people or something. Similar things have happened to me in the past, and I scratched my head then too.
32. It’s easier to sell books at indoor festivals than outdoor ones. I don’t know why, but it’s always easier to sell things at indoor festivals. You’d think with the increased costs associated with an indoor festival (hotel rooms specifically) that it would be the other way around, but it never is. This truism has held for me every year I’ve been speaking at Pagan Festivals.
33. Point 32 might be related to how many more people go to workshops at indoor festivals. It’s probably easier to visit workshops when you don’t have to cook your own meals or walk half a mile to use the bathroom. At outdoor festivals the priority always seems to be late-night drum circles and parties. At indoor festivals the priority always seems to be workshops and late night parties. “Partying” might be easier at indoor festivals because it’s easier to find people/see their faces. Harder to find people around a big bonfire.
34. Concerts are better at outdoor festivals. Maybe it’s because of acoustics, but music always sounds better outside. Even things I’m not wild about take on a different feel when you listen to them surrounded by grass and stars. While looking this post over I realized that people might mistake the use of “grass” there for marijuana. When I wrote it I meant grass the plant in a lot of yards. However, if getting stoned during a show works for you, that’s fine. Read into it what you want.
35. I feel like a rockstar at Pagan Festivals. When 150 people listen to you speak and only two people leave in the middle of your presentation it makes you feel really good about yourself. The ripped-up jeans add to the rockstar effect. In addition to feeling like a rockstar, I also sometimes feel like a total dork. Get me away from my lecture notes and I’m not all that bright.
WEIRD PERSONAL THINGS
36. My favorite days outside of Paganism. Not counting initiation day and my wedding, the best days of my life were when the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowls 40 and 43, and the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Most Pagans will never understand this, but those were the happiest moments of my entire existence.
37. Buffalo Chicken is delicious. If you ask me to decide what we are having for dinner, you’ll end up with a big plate of buffalo chicken, fried potato, and ranch dressing. The buffalo chicken is even better when it’s so hot that it makes tears stream down your face. Those are tears of joy!
38. I write a lot on here about hard cider, and it’s true, I really love hard cider. My favorite cider of all time would be Raspberry Cider Jack, but since the Cider Jack cidery is no more, it’s now Ace Pumpkin Cider. The best draft cider is Strongbow, which is a dry English Cider. It annoys me that my local pub only serves Magner’s, which is fine, but not nearly as good as Strongbow.
39. “Fool in the Rain” by Led Zeppelin is my all time favorite song. I sometimes forget how much I love this song, and then I listen to it again after a few months and start doing happy dances. Plant’s vocals and Bonzo’s drumming just take this tune to a whole other level. It’s a mostly forgotten Zeppelin track, but it shouldn’t be.
40. Here’s to Life! Is it true it’s always happy hour here? Yup, at my house it’s always happy hour, and no drinking is really required. I have led a charmed existence. I’ve been blessed with wine, women, and song, but more importantly I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and people who love me and that I love in return. Here’s to life!