Monday, April 27, 2009

Finding your place in the world.

That’s not fair I never thought that would happen to me Why, what did I deserve to get this? Words we probably all have said at least once in our life, and likely will say many times more. Junk statistics and popular psychology tells us that “today’s youth has an unrealistic view of their future”. I think what they mean by this, is they are told they can do anything. Indeed you can do almost anything if you try. Try is the bit the youth forget. They assume a degree from a university guarantees them a high paid job. They assume they too can one day be president of the USA (or similar). What no one told them is that every dream requires work. Requires luck, and sometimes no matter how much we want that dram to be true, it cannot be obtained. We don’t prepare ourselves for failure. Indeed seldom do we have a back up plan. One of the best illustrations of this for me was when I was teaching undergraduate Chemistry. The freshman course, taught me how badly people want a dream but how poorly they chase it. In my University (University of Otago). The various professional health science careers (Pharmacy, Dentistry, and medical) along with law, have a cap of 200 entrants to the next year. Each freshman class is around 2000 students, and of those around 1900 of them think they are going to make it. Statistically, they have a 10% chance. What they also don’t know is it’s more like a 7% chance as the courses will also take graduates with degrees into them and show preference for that. But every year about 3 weeks out from the Chem 112 exam I would ask. “Who is going into Medical School/Dentistry/Pharmacy?” and then “So if you do not get in what will you do?” Every year the majority of these students had no back up plan. It was medical/dentistry/pharmacy school or else. OR the back up was one of the other professions. It’s not realistic if you do not have a back up plan. But we are taught to dream high. There is nothing wrong with that. But we don’t get the idea of “plan B” (and C and D). It is all about finding your path in the world. You should always strive, but you should also be prepared for the worst. One of the defining natures for a warrior should be how practical they are in a situation. By practical I mean being able to take action, and reduce or remove a problem with the minimum amount of fuss and bother. In the various Indo-European cultures there was the concept of “fate” or something similar. By fate, I do not mean the modern “it was destined to be and always was”. I mean the consequences of your actions and others actions is such that this is how you got here. To the Scandinavian and Germanic tribes there was Wyrd. To the Irish there was Dán. Many of us are familiar with the term wyrd. Sadly like many things the Neopagan subculture has latched on to it, and misuses it (appropriation anyone?). Dán (dawn) is very similar. It is about walking the path of your life, as you should. Your place in life is your Dlùth (dluck) is your true nature, the person you are meant to be. You walk a path to your Dán when you start becoming more and more like your Dlùth. Dán is something you have control over. Your actions bring you there; the actions of others too bring you here. But it is not set in stone. So a warrior when they find themselves in a situation, they should not spend too much time in moments of “how did it come to this” and “that is not fair”. The warrior knows life is not fair. Nor is it unfair. It just is. It is more important to deal with the here and now, than wonder how you could have stopped it. That is for after dealing with it. So a skill to learn is what is called “fast mapping”, where by you learn to deal with something as it occurs. Also observation is important too. Prevention is better than a cure they say, and the same goes for situations. If you prevent or reduce the problem before it occurs, you have one half the battle. In history wars are won with both those who adapt faster and better (fast mapping) and strategy (observation). Life is the same (and no I am not saying life is a war). We learn from our mistakes better than our successes. Similarly if we do not repeat mistakes, we are doing better as well. Finding a place in the world, and accepting that at this moment that is where you are will get you a lot further and make you a lot happier than denial.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sacrifice of Self

Sacrifice of the Self. One of the hardest parts of being a Warrior (at least in my eyes) is that through service there may need to be some self-sacrifice performed. In any functioning community, every member should be at least willing to do this. The self-sacrifice is the time and effort that is required to have a functioning community. However Neopaganism encourages individuality. That in turn can lead to an apparent dearth of people willing to actually do this. The warrior should be willing to do this and more for his or her community of choice. Be the first to volunteer. BE the first to offer to give something up to get the job done. I am reminded of the scene from “The 13th Warrior” where the old seer calls for 13 warriors to undertake the quest. Each of the first 12 responds, “I will be the 1st (or second or) man” with pride evident on their face. The warrior in the community should be the same. If a call goes out to set up tents and tables at a festival, any “warrior” in the community should be “I shall be there” and be there, early preferably and do the job. That is one example of sacrifice. Another is putting yourself into conflicts way. As I said Neopagans love their individual natures. This leads to flame wars on lists, which lead to Witch wars outside of lists, which in turn gives us long lasting grudges. A warrior should stand up to this sort of behavior, no matter the cost and ask for it to stop, if you have the power (list moderation, or venue security) then you should also remove the trouble makers, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE! The warrior should question their leaders (fellow warriors and others) who also are acting wrongly. It’s your job. What if the community sees YOU (the warrior) as the problem? Examine their gripe. Were you too aggressive and authoritarian? Were you acting against their wishes? Are they not willing to play by the rules they said they would? Any of those scenarios should be a red flag to you. Did you over do it? Yes? No? How can I do better next time? Should there be a next time? Did you misunderstand their wishes? Should you have asked for clarification? Did they know what they were asking? They don’t want you there, because you make them play by the rules? Consider walking away. Don’t be meek and mild if it’s a situation that is against your ethics. Own up to YOUR mistakes. Don’t be shy. Also make sure others know what went on. But go. Leave. Do not look back. Make that sacrifice. No community is the totality of Paganism, even if they think they are. If you walk away. Take time to heal, take time to think. But do not play by their rules. Stay away. Stay strong. Find a new place to serve. Learn and grow. Make that sacrifice and hold your head high. Remove drama. Or remove a point of contention for you. Brendan Myers in his book “The other side of Virtue” talks of the heroes sacrifice as being one of the highest levels of virtue in the old warrior cultures. Lets return to the 13th Warrior as an example. Each of the 13 Warriors risks that. At the end, the dying chieftain lives up to his oath to protect the Village, knowing he was dying, but keeping his word. Learn by examples like this. They are throughout the various myths, legends and stories of our spiritual and perhaps actual ancestors. No many of us will not go into physical battle. But many of us will go into metaphorical battle. Live by our ethics. Live by our virtues. LIVE and be proud. It is that simple. To be a warrior means to be willing to sacrifice. Slan agat Noinden

Friday, April 3, 2009

Taking up the Challenge

For those of us who are Neopagan “warriors” chances are (I am assuming a lot I am sure) that we are aware of the idea that we shall face challenges, ordeals, and yes conflict. We hope we will not (again I am assuming a lot) have to do this too often, but we are willing to make sacrifices to save others from having to do this too much. At some point in our spiritual growth, we reach the point where we are willing to take up the challenge (as I will refer to this as). We may have trained for years in martial arts, and suddenly have to apply them. We may be come activists for the earth, first nations, or similar causes, spearheading the charge for change. We may even be so bold as to decided to work energy/cast spells to maintain some sort of peace. I will not judge any on those paths. But I would caution that I believe that to serve should be done with the consent of the community. But to take up the Challenge is a rite of passage. It should mean that we are steady in our ideas of what is morally and ethically right, it should mean that we are attuned to what others want, otherwise how can we claim to be taking “right action” and not dictating our own wishes? We should be skilled at the job ahead, not some thug out to prove a point. So in my case I “felt the call” about a decade ago. I had recently joined the ADF (http://www.adf.org/core/) as I had been searching for a Druidic organization, which fitted with my own belief structure. Once I joined I discovered the “guild system” within the organization (http://www.adf.org/groups/guilds/). I had for five or so years (it is a little murky how long) been identifying with the idea of the “warrior”. Early on, what this just was was a good question. But it called out to me. I discovered the Warriors guild (http://www.adfwarriors.org/) and this began to help me formulate a lot of the ideas, which I now have. The study program at the time was a little different than what I was after, but like all things in the Neopagan world, it has grown and changed over time, and I am proud to say I’ve even managed to put a little of my own influence in there. So if you feel called (or have felt called) you might understand exactly what I am talking about. But to try and put this into words. I felt the need to serve my community. My community at the time was the University of Otago Pagan Network (http://au.geocities.com/pagan_otago/ sadly this appears to have died out since I left :( ). I took upon myself (with the blessing of the group) dealing with an antagonistic Student president who had claimed, “We were all bloody heathens who should be burned at the stake”. My actions basically were to harass him, the student newspaper, and the Otago University Students Association (OUSA) until he apologized. I was not subtle, and I probably dragged this out for a few months longer than I would have today. But that was my calling. I was capable (mentally) of battling some affront. I personally was less offended than others, but was not about to let some small minded individual get away with bigotry. From there I realized I was not totally equipped to perform that role every time. If it had been a physical threat, chances are I’d be in trouble. Spiritually, I was not as educated as I wished, and did not want to miss speak too often. So I realized calling is all well and good. But that calling does not make me a warrior; it is just the first step. The road of the “warrior” should (again this is just my opinion) be one of continual learning and growth. Reassessing what we know and not assuming we are perfect. Basically we should neither be arrogant or meek. We should strive to improve. Mistakes are ok. Indeed we learn more from mistakes than we learn from successes. So what sort of skills do you need? Again this will depend on you. For me I’ve broken down the areas a warrior operates in to internal and external and within each of these are the Physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual realms. Physically I think we should try to strive to be “fighting fit”. This does not mean rippling muscles, it means having the ability to perform some physical activity for decent periods of time. I also think some level of skill in self defense is needed. Again I am not advocating having a black belt in several styles. I’m a “humble” phase one student of the Todd Group system of Close Quarter Combat (http://www.closecombatschool.com/) I’ve known others who have no training, and many who hold several belts in different systems. To me the fact remains, you should be able to at least know what to do in conflict. Even if know that you are out classed and to follow the example of Brave Brave Sir Robin (1) Mentally it’s similar. I think we should all learn some logic, some debating skills, and also how to defend ones own ideas through words. I also think we should always be learning history, tactics, and similar things. Spiritually. This one is hard. Many Neopagans will be going “Is he saying we need to learn to throw curses”. Ummm I guess you could. It is up to you. But I think you should cultivate a relationship with deities and other beings that are more militarily minded. I think you should also understand the mechanics of the more distasteful aspects of occult practice. Often in the community you will get someone who is just an ass. They will claim to throw curses, bindings, and similar ideas. In reality they are doing nothing except playing mind games. Recognizing this is a great way to disarm them, and even turn it back on them. Like I have said. All of this is a continual learning process. There is more than that but I should save some ideas for another post. So you “felt the calling” and trained a little or a lot. Good. You are a step or three ahead of your average armchair warrior. You probably did not spend time drooling over the nice shinny wall hanger swords, or know the mussel velocity of a Magnum 44 Supermag. If you did… it is ok every one needs a hobby! One day it will come to a point where there is a challenge. More often than not it will be INSIDE the community, but sometimes it will be outside of it. Here is when you have to decide to act. It is just that. Decide (a) Am I up to it and (b) How to act. The first part is the most imperative. If you are not up to the job (and I have said this before) call someone who is. Be that the police, or the high priest/priestess. Either way, don’t play hero. The second is harder. If you over do it, you will cause more problems (perhaps a law suit if it gets violent, or you say something stupid) if you under do it, you might get hurt. Sadly only experience teaches this level of response. But if you see something to act on. ACT. It’s what should separate you from the others. You are willing to act. You are willing to risk. You are willing to dare. You are also willing to fail. When acting in a role as warrior I do certain things. I ask the people running the festival or ritual or meeting “ok so what do you want from me and what do you NOT want from me?” If I cannot give them either. I turn the role down. It’s the ethical thing to do. I was once asked to “delay the cops” if they showed up. That was a stupid thing to do. So I walked away. Know your area of work. If you are to act as what reclaiming witchcraft calls “the Dragon” (a spiritual guardian role). Then know the order of ritual as well as you can. Look at the people participating as they enter. Do not over react. It is the best way to kill a ritual. Do not under react it is the best way to kill a ritual (yes it is a catch 22). But know your battlefield. At a festival know entrances and exits, know where the first aid kit is. Watch for people acting strangely. Does someone seem nervous and aggressive? Does some one seem upset? Is that “quietly intense conversation” giving mad energy off? Etc I added this one, after a Lughnasd ritual two years back. There had been some very bad blood in the community I live in, and well every one was on edge. I was asked to be “Dragon” for the second ritual running in a week. During the day. A young guy and myself I was training. Saw this guy come in to the festival. He seemed nervous. Probably his first. He annoyed some people. But not too bad. Then 30 minutes before ritual, he returned in garb. Ok cool. He was carrying his atheme (and we had banned all blade weapons) in a fist. Jimmy (the young guy) and I both saw it and both went running. It turned out to be a misunderstanding. But it had the potential to be bad! Luckily we did not over react. Calm people down. A few calm words help. Ok this is physical and mental. Now spiritual. During a ritual, if you feel aggressive energy. You hopefully will know how to ground and transform it. The ritual before the one I mentioned above (guy with knife) was a pub moot. Generally those have no energy. People are mellow, well fed, and the ritual is some nice bonding group theater. Not always but generally. Well this one was not. Like I said there was bad blood. I had been asked along with 3 young guys to act as Dragon here too. From the moment the circle was cast. I felt as if my skin was crawling with energy. I had been to several pub moots and I was lucky to notice the fire, let alone raised energy. So something was up. We spent the ritual grounding, channeling, making sure people were ok etc. It was out job to “take one” for every one. All except one of us got sick. The young guys sadly spent a lot of time trying to wipe spirits that showed an interest out. I had to split my energy on stopping them, and stopping the others stuff. I maintain it was real and so do about 30 others! Perhaps the beer had something in it? Ok some of you will be going “this was mellodramatic play acting” right? Possibly except as I said, I’d never felt energy at this Pub moot before, and many others never had. At other times during a ritual you will get what the ADF and Reconstructionist pagans call “outsider deities” show up. I’ve had Loki show up even before the Dagda and Lugh showed up, and I asked them. What to do? Again that is up to you. I don’t suggest trying to banish them however. Commanding them does not seem like a good idea either. I guess my last pieces of advice are also the most important. Be ready for the challenge. Try not to go looking for the challenge! Don’t escalate; don’t decide to go on a “cattle raid” into their territory (no matter how tempting). Treat your behavior as if you are the face of your community. Do not do anything that they would be embarrassed about. Oh and do not compromise your morals and ethics either. (1) “Run away! Run Away”