A Druid’s View of American Politics

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It’s election time here in the US and it tends to bring out the worst in people.  It also highlights the extreme dysfunction of American civil discourse, or uncivil discourse as the case may be.  Sadly, the media in this country has done an extremely good job at brainwashing Americans in to being at war with one another.  Turning “patriotic” Americans into rabid dogs convinced their fellow Americans are out to get them.  Fox news blames all the ills of the United States on government controlling, naive, and layabout “liberals”; while MSNBC blames all the ills of the United States on the greedy, mean-spirited, and corporate totalitarianism of the “conservatives”.

The election really brings out the hate and dogmatism in folks.  Dripping, venomous, irrational HATE.  Liberals over at the Daily Kos spew their sickening, bile filled venom, on Romney saying:

He is the epitome of suckage.  He is suckitude incarnate.  The man is a bad person and a shitty American, a lousy Governor, a sleazy businessman with little or no ethics, a cowardly bully, a thieving scumbag, and a compulsive liar with no shame.  He has no ideas, he lies whenever it suits him, he thinks he’s entitled to take whatever he wants from other people, and he has personally destroyed parts of the American economy and thrown families into poverty to benefit himself.  Patriotism, accountability, benevolent vision, and service to a cause greater than himself are completely alien to this singularly soulless viper of a pseudo-human being.

The attacks on the right tend to be more direct in the case of Obama.  Full of ignorant fear, paranoia, and bigotry:

Both expressions clearly come from a level of infantile thought.  Dichotomous thought.

One of the most profound insights that I gained from Druidism was their emphasis on Trinary Thought.  It is a simple but profoundly liberating teaching that basically says, “When confronted with a black and white argument, immediately summon your discernment.”  For me this leads to a place of compassion and liberated thought.  Dichotomous thinking can lead to all sorts of pain and problems for both sides of the argument.

It is when we refuse to listen to one another that governmental and corporate power win.  Mass mind control is really quite simple:

  1. Present a controversial issue, one that evokes emotion.
  2. Create two sides to the debate, and only two sides.
  3. Convince Democrats they are on one side and Republicans they are on the other.
  4. Make sure the debate is heated and portrayed in the most negative way possible.
  5. Sell lots of ads.
  6. Laugh all the way to the bank.

It has become a habit of mine around this time to make it very clear to people that if they want to talk politics with me that it must be with an open mind.  It has been my experience that people are looking to either rant or preach; neither approach works, unless you are just looking to increase anger and fear.

I respect Druidism’s emphasis on trinary thinking.  It has transformed the way I look at all sorts of arguments, but political arguments especially.  I am so through with looking at Republicans as the “enemy” when my everyday experience of many of them is delightful.  It is only when we start putting aside our dogmas that we will really be able to change the country for the better.  Until then you are either screaming at walls or preaching to the choir.

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Episode 3 of “Mountains of the Sun” is live!

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Hello all!  Our latest episode of Mountains of the Sun is up!  In honor of Samhain this year we decided to focus on our ancestors and what it is like to work with them.  If you would like to give a listen you can subscribe to us via iTunes or click here.

This episode features the cool sounds of “Strange Boy” by Edith Makes a Paperchain (a local band that Hilary plays with off and on), as well as Frater Ashen’s “Magician’s Workings” segment on the subject of magic wands.

Enjoy!

Teo Bishop and the Wisdom of Hecklers

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ImageWell.  There have been some interesting developments regarding Pagan Pride Day this year in Denver; the subject of my last post.  I mentioned that I had interviewed Druid blogger Teo Bishop this past Saturday.  Unlike Teo, I did not attend the closing ceremony of this years event as I was giving interviews.  Evidently there was a heckler during the final ceremony who was vocal in their opposition to the participants.  I actually caught some of the heckling in the background of one of my interviews, although at the time I had filtered it into the “background noise” part of my consciousness.

Teo, being the excellent blogger he is, wrote about his experience in a post entitled, “I Felt Ashamed At Pagan Pride“.  I highly recommend giving it a read, and serious consideration.  In fact (much to his delight and his dismay) his comments have gone viral.  I have already put in my two cents in his comments section, but wanted to say a few more things about it here on my blog.

I had the real pleasure of interviewing Teo earlier in the day and found him to be a thoughtful, well spoken, and all around cool guy.  I must admit, however, upon reading his post about DPP my initial reaction was one of sadness.  This was my first foray into the larger pagan community in many years.  I had such a delightful day and got to connect with some amazing folks.  So when I saw the Teo’s post I found myself feeling like some of my Colorado pride had been stepped on.  Once I got over the initial emotions of it, however, I could not help but give Teo props for calling attention to an issue that bears serious discussion and reflection.  Public ritual; the do’s and dont’s.

My entire experience with ceremony has been a private affair with my tuatha here in Colorado Springs.  I have never felt very comfortable with public ceremony and have shied away from them as a personal rule.  From Teo’s description, however, it seems that there was an unintentional, or perhaps intentional, exclusion of those people who were observing; part of the reason the heckling may have started in the first place.  His point is well taken, it can be very easy to create an Us vs. Them mentality using the structure of circle in this context.  A marking of space that creates something that Augustine himself would have loved; the City of God shining on a hill, ablaze in it’s own righteousness.  Or in this case “The City of the Gods”?!  😉

Personally I think public ceremony is flawed in the first place.  I think the fact that other religious traditions would not be caught dead doing their ceremonies in a public park should give us pause.  I am far more interested in sacred theater or mystery play.  Plays/theater seem like a much more appropriate media for relating to the public at large.  Theater is an inclusive atmosphere that *hopes* that people of *unlike* mind stop by to be educated and engaged.  With theater everyone is invited.

I want to point out one more aspect of this that I found purely delightful.  One of Teo’s biggest difficulties, at least in my mind, was the apparent dichotomy of the event.  Us vs. Them, Pagan vs. Overculture et cetera.  Teo, like me, follows a Druidic path in paganism.  Proving once again that nothing seems to get a Druid’s “Irish up” (pun very much intended) more than dichotomy.  😉

Pagan Pride Day in Denver

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ImageThis past Saturday in Denver was Colorado’s annual Pagan Pride Day event.  As some of you may be aware I have not historically been very involved in the pagan community, but lately, with the launch of my podcast, Mountains of the Sun, and more blogging here, I have felt an intense need to change all of that.  So popping up to Denver Pagan Pride was a step in that direction.

Hilary and I drove up to Denver early in the morning, hoping to help the event organizer, and pagan author Melanie Marquis with anything she might need for setup.  Pagan Pride Day this year was held right in front of the state capital building, in Civic Center Park; apt placement I thought.  As we walked from our parking space to the event I must admit to some nervousness, but I was also totally curious.

I won’t go into the entire chronology of the day but the long and short of it was that I had a blast!  Part of my project for going up was to get interviews of various pagans for my podcast.  And I have to say it was a real revelation for me.  I am not by nature a very social person, but I have always *wanted* to be.  The great thing about giving interviews is that it gives you a perfectly valid excuse to go up to a total stranger and have a chat.  I was grinning from ear to ear after all was said and done.  All the interviews will be on the November show of Mountains of the Sun, to be replaced sometime around the middle of the month.  I will post here whenever I upload a new show.

To whet your appetite here is a small sampling of the people I had the pleasure of interviewing.

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Sister Who

Sister Who: a mind blowing experience of the spiritual kind.  She is so well spoken, kind, and poetic.  I can say that after meeting her it is obvious she is someone who lives close to the Otherworld at all times.

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Teo Bishop

Teo Bishop: a Druid blogger over at Bishop in the Grove, who I read often, and who I was totally surprised to see!  Well spoken, funny and intelligent interview.

William: another Druid who is starting a new Ár nDraíocht Féin group in Boulder.  A teenage pagan, a pagan father, an alchemist, a newbie pagan, Piper a Seid worker, and many more.  I was so happy with all the interviews and it was so great to connect with fellow pagans!  Our good friend Bryan came along as well, set up a booth and gave a well attended workshop on scrying.  My only regret was that I was so busy with interviews that I forgot to take any pictures! 😦

Turas Tonight

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Quick entry today as I get ready for my Dream Turas tonight.  I have to admit I am a little nervous, the last time I was up there I did see some mountain lion tracks.  But I have come to see that these kinds of things always have an element of danger in them and that if you really want to encounter spirits outdoors you really have to be alone.  So I am packing up a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, and water, and will be having only a light amount of raw food today.

The cleanse was harder than I expected, leading to one bout of nausea that passed quickly but was rather intense.  But I must say I feel so much better physically and my mind seems a lot clearer.

Once again, if any of you feel like it, I would really appreciate prayers directed my way tonight for a successful turas.

Turas for a Dream

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Starting this coming Sunday I am going to begin preparations for a Dream Turas.  Turas, for those of you who may not know, is Gaelic for “excursion, expedition, journey, ride, run, tour, pilgrimage, trip”.  I tend to use turas when referring to these kinds of trips, I feel it carries a more complete meaning than “pilgrimage”.  I have been meaning to to a turas like this for years now and am finally getting off my duff and doing it.

I was recently lead back to a local site with a small panel of petroglyphs; a set of petroglyphs that look very old.  The panel contains a group of figures that have fascinated me ever since I first saw them.  There is definitely something “special” about this place.  Quiet, peaceful, and filled with an aura of expectation.  I bring an offering every time I go (which has only been a handful of times) and make some simple prayers.

Seeking dreams at powerful places is ancient tradition common to many cultures all over the world.  In Ireland for example certain burial mounds were thought to be places that could bestow dreams of great power where the seeker would either, “see a wonder or go mad”.  There is also the Asclepeion in Turkey; perhaps the first holistic hospital in the world.  The Asclepeion was a temple to the Greek god of healing Asclepius where patients would go and spend there first nights in rooms that had the ability to induce powerful dreams.  It was the patients dream that started the healing process.

A few days ago I took a short hike to the site, left and offering and stated my intention for being there, what I would be doing, and when I would do it (on “the second night after the new moon”).  I got some favorable omens!

So starting on Sunday I will begin a raw food and water cleanse that will last through the end of the turas on the morning of the 18th.  I will spend the week praying to my ancestors and the gods for success.  I will hike in the afternoon of the 17th and stay the night at the site, leaving in the morning.  It any of my readers feel so inclined I would really appreciate prayers directed my way (especially on the night of the 17th) for good brí!  I have learned not to expect grand visions and strange happenings from these kinds of trips, if they come great.  Often the more subtle dreams or even feelings of peace can be far more powerful and have a longer energetic impact.

If any of you have done similar journeys in the past I would love to hear about your experiences.

Fall in the Rockies: Great for Skinny Dipping

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Now that Fall has come to the Rockies it is aspen season.  The aspens here turn gold, and when I say gold I mean GOLD.  So Hilary and I went in search of aspens and Greenback trout, not to fish mind you, just to stalk.  Of course the one downside to Rocky Mountain streams this time of year is this; they are @*!$ing COLD.
As you can see my first plunge was harder, and more painful than I thought.  This is also a cautionary tale on the dangers of wife with camera.  Regardless it was one of the most beautiful days I have ever seen, or been naked in.

I have always been fascinated by the Shinto ceremony of misogi, an intense rite of purification.  Misogi uses a combination of prayer, exercise, breathing, and offerings to purify the spirit and the body.  Misogi is a feature of Japanese mountain ascetic practices, and as such fascinates the mountain pagan in me.  One of my pursuits over the winter will be the preliminary development of a waterfall purification with a pagan/Celtic flair.  This was my first practical test of some ideas.  Although these experiences are somewhat painful, the effect is unmistakeable; you really feel like a different person afterwards. Gods, I love Colorado!  I leave you with some more shots.

Climbing along the creek.

Aspen of pure gold

Finally got in, froze, and prayed.

Hilary next to the pool.

Return of the Greenbacks

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Reading the local paper the other day, during a slow spot at work, I came across the most amazing and hopeful article I have read in a long time.  The article “Pure Greenback Cutthroat Trout Confirmed in Remote Colorado Stream“, immediately caught my eye.  Not only that, the “remote stream” the article mentions, is just outside my hometown.  Before I was done reading I literally had tears in my eyes.

The Greenback Cutthroat Trout, once thought to be common to rivers in Colorado has turned out to be anything but.  After some DNA tests were conducted on various “Greenback” populations of fish in different parts of the state, it turned out that none of them were pure greenbacks.  This raised serious concerns that the fish was in fact extinct.  Crazy thing is, they would be if it weren’t for an old hermit named Joesph C. Jones.

Joseph Jones lived in what in now known as Jones Park, a valley in the mountains southwest of my fair city of Colorado Springs.  Jones, a prospector and explorer, ended up buying the land in 1873 for $200. Hating to make frequent trips into town for food and supplies, Jones brought the then pure Greenback Cutthroat from the South Platte River, dug out some pools in Bear Creek, and stocked them there.  There they would survive; while the rest of the Greenbacks were slowly decimated by habitat destruction, disease, and the introduction of the non-native species of trout.  The article says:

A study unraveling the genetics of Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout, has found that pure greenbacks exist only on a 4-mile stretch of a creek southwest of Colorado Springs.

The University of Colorado study using DNA analysis and historical specimens also is triggering a federal re-evaluation of the biological status of greenback cutthroats, which are listed as ‘threatened’ rather than ‘endangered.’

‘We’ve known for some time that the trout in Bear Creek were unique,’ said Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. ‘But we didn’t realize they were the only surviving greenback population.’

Because of this amazing find, and the efforts of an old hermit, the Colorado Department of Wildlife has now begun a breeding program to breed and release over a thousand pure Greenbacks back into the South Platte sometime next year.

But like many stories of endangered species this one has it’s dark side.  A nearby trail, within the Bear Creek watershed is open to motorcycle use.  A few weeks back the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service to close the trail to motorcycle use over concerns that turbidity (a fancy term for excess dirt in the water) may cause harm to the now rare fish.  So here we have the classic dichotomy between the “enviros” and the “dirt bikers”.  From my point of view, considering how close this species is to extinction, a temporary closure would be a good idea, but to be fair, should include hikers as well.  I will be drafting up a letter to the Forest Service in the coming weeks to say just that.

Despite the arguments over the trails, I was ecstatic.  The idea that through the agency of Ol’ Jones, the Gods had made a place for this fish to survive, filled me with immense hope.  It has been an example to me of how man can *help* rather than harm.

May the Gods bless the Greenback!

My Ancestry: Part the First “DNA”

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Being October, the most holy month of Samhain, (a time we pagans set aside to honor our ancestors) seemed like an apropos time to receive my Ancestry.com DNA Test Kit. Elated?  That would be putting it mildly.  I have been wanting to do an ancestry DNA test for years now, and thanks to a generous gift from my grandma Susanne, I have done so!!!

I expected the finger prick, with carefully placed drops of blood, in neat little circles; but it was not like that at all.  The test consisted of a small cardboard box with nifty design, a padded business return envelope, and a plastic vial to catch my saliva.  That’s right, saliva not blood.  You fill the vial with a small amount of saliva (I did it in one tongue rolling mouth churn) up to a very clearly defined black line.  Once you have the requisite amount of saliva you close the first lid which breaks a seal and pours a solution into your saliva that the box says, “helps stabilize your DNA sample”.  Pop it in the return envelope, activate your test online with a code, mail it, and your done.

I am not sure yet what information I will get back but the test sounds like one of the most thorough offered anywhere.  Without getting too technical, the new test analyzes your autosomal DNA, which includes the entire genome—all 23 pairs of chromosomes—as opposed to only looking at the Y chromosome or Mitochondrial DNA. Not only can everyone take the new test, but it also provides a more complete picture of your family history.  Also, the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests look at much smaller amounts of your DNA. For example, YDNA tests only look at about 40 locations whereas AncestryDNA comprehensively looks at the entire genome at over 700,000 locations.

This fascination all started for me when I read a book a few years back called “The Seven Daughters of Eve”.  Despite the obvious Christian title I decided to read it anyway. (Joking)  It was a fascinating read to say the least.  The main topic of the book is that through DNA research, researches and scientists have discovered that all people of European descent are descended from one of seven women, dubbed the “Seven Daughters of Eve”.  Through the study of mutation, and descendent distribution, researchers have come up with rough dates on when they arrived in Europe and where they lived.  They even have names:

  1. Ursula (Latin for she-bear)
  2. Xenia (Greek for hospitable)
  3. Helena (Greek for light)
  4. Velda (Scandinavian for ruler)
  5. Tara (Gaelic for rocky hill)
  6. Katrine (Greek for pure)
  7. Jasmine (Persian for flower)

Oh the pagan in me started to drool reading this book!  And not only that, researchers have done extensive testing on the Y chromosome as well; this is the imprint of male ancestry.  For instance did you know that researchers have determined that  the famous *Pagan* Irish King Niall of the Nine Hostages has over 3 million descendents?  (Crossing fingers)  The research would be far to long to detail here, but author Bryan Sykes does a Carl Sagan like job in explaining it to us lay folk.

Here is a list of the things I hope to discover:

  • Who of the Seven Daughters can I call “grandma”?
  • To which line of Y chromosome males do I belong to?
  • What was the migration route that my ancestors took into Europe from Africa?
  • What are my ethnicity percentages?
  • Do I really have an American Blackfoot ancestor or is it just a fable in my family?
  • Do I have blood from people/places that I would never expect?

I will be posting the test results here when I get them!  It is going to be a long 6 to 8 weeks.

The Knee Can Make Jerks of Us All

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Over the last few weeks I have looked on with horror and frustration at the way some extremist Muslims have been behaving after perceived “slights” to their faith.  First there was the YouTube video that sparked protests, riots, and killing in various cities throughout the Arab world.  Distasteful and sad.  Then there was the more recent torching of Buddhist homes and shrines in Bangladesh all based on a picture uploaded to Facebook of a Buddhist teen disrespecting the Koran.  Words fail to adequately describe how despicable these violent acts are.

I wish to clarify, up front, that I sincerely admire and respect the faith of Islam, the amazing poetry and miracle that is the Koran, and am generally sympathetic to the problems the Arab world faces.  The United States, and other foreign powers have not tread lightly there.  But I think it also bears mentioning that the West has done good here as well; the intervention in the recent Libyan revolution being an example.  So please, before you read further, do not go burning pagan homes over this trifle of a blog.

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Burned Buddhist shrine in Bangladesh

When is the Muslim community going to start talking about this violence among themselves?  Where are the religious leaders, the Guardians of the Islamic Flame?  When are they going to publicly and vociferously decry these kind of acts?  I have heard various Muslims say that their faith is unfairly impugned, that the Christian nations have bombed them and committed all kinds of violence against them.  There can certainly be a case made to support that point of view.  However, you do not see *civilian* Buddhists burning mosques, or *civilian* Christians rioting and burning homes because someone casts aspersions on their faith.  And as a pagan, a member of a minority faith, I have one piece of advice.  Deal.

I had the pleasure of watching a 30 Days episode recently on Netflix.  For those of you who have never seen it I highly recommend it.  A 3 season TV show, produced by Morgan Spurlock of “Supersize Me” fame, this show brilliantly puts people of opposing viewpoints in each others shoes for 30 days.  Season 1: Episode 3, entitled “Muslims in America” is of particular interest.  It gives the audience a genuine glimpse into a Muslim family and their gorgeous Islamic faith.  In one scene the head of the household of the hosting Islamic family defends Islam against the stereotype of of the “Islamic terrorist”.  His point is well taken.

However, I do feel that Muslims need to stop focusing on what others say about them.  Lets be honest about the fact that every single faith on the planet gets made fun of and stereotyped; bar none.  What is important is to examine the actions ones religious community takes when faced with prejudice, *not* the prejudice itself.  We pagans are certainly no exception.

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Witch’s Wit

A California brewing company, by the name “The Lost Abbey” brews a beer affectionately called “Witch’s Wit”.  I was recently forwarded the text on the bottle which reads as follows:

Whether you’re a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you’ll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.

Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you’ll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch. In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch’s Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us.

Viewed “as is” this can be insulting to those of us who call ourselves Witches and Pagans, right?  But we have got to stop going off half-cocked and look a little deeper.  Their website is chock full of other beers that have obviously satirical descriptions as well.  Not only that, but the copywriter explains of Witch’s Wit:

When I imagined this beer, I thought of two perspectives that would make for the best story. The first story could have been told from the Point of View of our Witch (or Heroine depending on the story). Ultimately, I think I like not knowing her story is better. How she got there is a big part of the mystery.

I became more fixated on the guilt of the crowd. There would surely have been people (the faceless souls) who could have/ would have wanted to help. There also would have been some righteous people smug with satisfaction knowing another “witch” leaving their world.

The Point of View for this back story label is about that smugness and righteousness in light of a horrific atrocity against mankind. It’s written in a modified 3rd person Omniscient Point of View (partly a member of the crowd and my own voice). I knew that most people wouldn’t spend the time delving into the mystery of the piece I wrote but at the same time, I wanted a voice of reason (or counter reason) to be present for this beer. Specifically, we knew this to be a thought provoking original art piece.

My point is this.  If we don’t take the time of have a good laugh at ourselves *and* look with wisdom and fearlessness on another’s point of view, we are doomed to live a life of conflict and fear.

The power of religion is like a flame; the raw power of the gods and goddesses given to mankind for use by our own free will.  We are the guardians of that flame.  We can choose to use that flame for warmth, fellowship, love and greater understanding, *or* we can use it to burn, rape, pillage and plunder.  (Don’t worry you Asatrú folk I don’t mean you! *wink*)  Personally I think the religious leaders of Islam, the Guardians of the Islamic Flame, are failing right now.  They need to remember their sacred duty as caretakers of a flame that has been entrusted to them by Allah and the Prophet (peace be upon him).  I do not mean take all the generalizations thrown your way, but you *must* start talking about these issues of violence; as a community, in your own Mosques, and in your own way.