Thursday, March 19, 2020

Pandemic

During times of crisis, when life is hard and leaves us sad or afraid, we often find ourselves turning to our authors, our singers, our artists, and our musicians. We turn to those who produce works of inspiration to lift our spirits and bring us the gift of perspective that is the very seed of hope. During this time, when the whole world seems to be shutting down, we need these people more than ever to remind us of our humanity.

As an author and a singer, a writer and a composer, I feel a great sense of expectation. As a priest, it feels more like an imperative: I should be writing *something* to help others find their center and be at peace as best they can in this uncertain and unsettling time. I've been noting my own silence on social media and email and whatnot. I'm not writing! Where are my words of encouragement for my loved ones? Where is my drive to create during this time when creation is the balance to all this seeming destruction? Why am I not writing???

But I am.

I am a healthcare worker, specifically laboratory medicine. I am in the place where your nasal swab goes when they want to test you for COVID-19. I am on the front line of ensuring we keep the tools available and follow all the rules to get you diagnosed, cared for, and restored to health. This is my work right now. This is my mission. This is where my words are.

I am writing. I write responses to doctors and nurses, providing information they need to answer questions from their patients. I participate in group chats almost continually to coordinate with other departments and make sure they have the supplies and receive test results in a way they understand. I reply to other healthcare workers with facts and kindness to ensure those doing this work are in the best headspace possible to make decisions that may save your life.

I also make phone calls and have tea with those precious few who have a moment and are allowed the face-to-face contact, holding space for their fears, their stories from their experiences, and their big emotions surrounding the future.

I may not be posting prayers or hosting online services, and that's okay. There are others carrying that torch. I am holding a different torch in my hand, and I am where my skillset is needed most. I am in the laboratory.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Practice and Initiation

Adherence to a religious practice provides benefits to the practitioners regardless of the church or group. The belief systems of orthodoxic religions such as Christianity provide a change in mindset that becomes the filter through which the practitioner view the world and their place within it. For example, converting to Christianity culminates in a baptism in which the convert is anointed and blessed with oil and Holy Water, sometimes even submerged and pulled from the depths in a reenactment of birth to give the convert the full-body memory of being reborn into their “new life.”

While orthopraxic faiths do not boast a set of new “facts” the adherent must now accept as truth, there are certain actions that will produce similar alignments in the minds and perspective of the new practitioner. The decision to worship the Earth and her inhabitants, for example, will transform the way a person moves through the world. Recycling and focus on one’s carbon footprint are the easiest and most common immediate results of the transformation to the ADF polytheistic worldview.

Hellenic Cult Practices such as the Cult of Dionysos and the Eleusinian Mystery Cult are well-documented ancient examples of the transformative function of religion. In the Cult of Dionysos, the devotees practice a form of ritual ecstasy through entheogens and ecstatic trance promising to lead them into audience with the God himself (Burkett, 1985, p. 223). These group experiences are not unlike the modern charismatic Christian worship sessions in which the participants may speak in tongues (glossolalia) or even be “slain in the spirit” (typically, fainting due to overexposure to uncontrolled ecstatic trance). Similarly in the Eleusinian Mysteries, the audience at the Greater Mysteries ritual observance were given a cocktail of herbs laced with ergot, a naturally occurring lysergic acid (LSD) to induce a similar state of shared otherworldly experience and revelation, after which the participants are treated as Initiates into the sacred, privileged knowledge (Wasson, Hoffmann & Ruck, 2008, p.35). Those few who hold these secrets are charged with responsibility, and the way they live their lives moving forward reflects their new purpose.

ADF was never intended to be an initiatory organization but a public-facing pagan church (Bonewits, Vision). ADF does not condone the use of entheogens, most of which are illegal in the United States, for trance or ritual purposes. When comparing to the reality and the lore of the Indo-European peoples, as a non-reconstructionist group, ADF practices are more themed on the ancient ways than influenced by their purpose and modalities. As mentioned above, while the ADF structures are not reconstructionist, they do provide capabilities for transformation for the practitioners.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

On Suffering and Oral Tradition

ADF does not have any specific practices for dealing with humanity in terms of suffering, ignorance, or other “evils.” What ADF does have is a focus on virtue and right relationship as defined by the principle of *ghosti. Being in right relationship is similar to the “golden rule,” to treat others as you want to be treated,” derived from the Christian and Jewish commandment to “love they neighbor as thyself.”  ADF also encourages us to examine the examples found in the lore of our respective hearth cultures. Similarly, both Christianity and Judaism rely upon parables, or tales meant to teach a greater life lesson. Humans have been using stories since long before recorded history.

With over 55 denominations in the United States, Christianity has a variety of view regarding suffering, ignorance, and evil. According to the Catholic faith, God has not created a perfect world, rather one of both creative and destructive forces (Catechism 310). Humanity’s suffering is the result of the original sin that occurred in the garden of good and evil when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge: the original justice (Catechism 97-400). All manner of suffering exists as humankind continues to disobey God and fall prey to the temptation of evil—a force personified in Satan, or the Devil; however, redemption exists through prayer in the name of the human-born son of God, Jesus, known as the Christ, whose death served as the final sacrifice for all believers, living and dead (Catechism 1026). One’s fate upon death is not final, and the prayers of the living may yet redeem those who wait the final days in a place for final purification known as Purgatory (Catechism 1030).

Judaism has a very different view of suffering. Most suffering the Jewish person must endure is the consequence for an action, not necessarily their own, for the retribution of G-d may come immediately as seen in the Book of Chronicles or it may come after many generations as seen in the Book of Kings (Goodman, 2018, p. 37). G-d was historically viewed as “powerful, good and knowledgeable, but not perfectly so” (MJL, 2019). The ways of G-d are mysterious, and like in the Book of Job, the Jews may not ever know His reasoning. Further, many believe the Jewish people, who are the chosen people of G-d, suffer on behalf of the wicked of humanity to bring redemption to all humankind, and for this, they will be rewarded in heaven (MJL, 2019).

Indo-European religions were once oral traditions, meaning all the tales and histories were passed down through retelling the stories over a lifetime. While we have books now that have recorded versions, variation is myths is often traced to differences in translations or an extended period of time between when the tales were written down. To that end, the Roman tale of Baucis and Philemon reveals a lesson in hospitality by showing the rewards for granting it. The Hellenic tale of Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Ares reveals the consequences of adultery. Refer to any Norse tale involving Loki in which he must begin a quest to undo a mistake he has made. All of these are tales designed to teach us the ways we are to interact with the world.

Indo-European Lore does not present a doctrinal explanation for the presence of suffering and evil—they seem to be accepted aspects of the nature of the world(s). Whether through direct punishment or as an innocent bystander in the wrath of a divine spirit, suffering and human pain are a known part of life.  The tale of Baucis and Philemon involves the gods, Jupiter and Mercury, disguised as peasants seeking hospitality from the wealthiest to the poorest among the village homes. The wealthiest homes slammed their doors in their faces, but when they reached the home of Baucis and Philemon, they were welcomed, sheltered, and fed. Jupiter and Mercury smote the entire village save Baucis and Philemon, who were made the guardians of the temple the gods placed over their home. They were granted one wish for their gift of hospitality, which was to leave the earthly realm hand-in-hand when their time was done that they may stay together forever.

Eros caused Ares to fall in love with Aphrodite, who was given in marriage to Hephaistos to assuage his wrath at Hera for casting him out of Olympos. Aphrodite wanted nothing more than to be with her Ares, and they had a quiet affair. Helios, the Sun God who sees all, saw their deception and told Hephaistos. Hephaistos made a set of chains that could not be broken which he used to bind the two lovers upon their next tryst. Once they were trapped, Hephaistos called out to all the gods to come witness their shame. After this, Hephaistos and Aprhodite were divorced, and when Aphrodite bore a child to Ares, Hephaistos cursed the girl and all her descendants with a necklace he gave her as a wedding present. Aphrodite and Ares were never allowed to marry, and both were plagued with unquenchable desires. (Theoi, 2017).

While the Indo-European tales hold lessons in human behavior, the thematic elements of the Christian and Jewish parables are often centered on the return of humanity to God. There are several parables in the Christian New Testament involving how humankind is to be a “light in the world” as believers in Jesus as The Christ (Matthew 5:14-16), how only those who believe have the ears to hear the good news (Mark 4:1-20), and how even those who turn away will be welcomed back when they return home (Luke 15:11-32). Jewish tales, like the Indo-European tales, often hold a moral teaching. They typically have a character(s) with a goal that is reached after overcoming an obstacle. For example, A Sabbath Lion tells the tale of a young Jewish boy who refused to travel on the Sabbath (which is forbidden), and Queen Sabbath sends a lion to guard him when he was left behind (Shtetl Routes, 2013).


Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Nature of Evil and Virtue in ADF

Reflecting on the nature of evil in a pre-monotheistic context is difficult, as our philosophies are full of the overtones from all the time that has passed since those writings were contemporary. The “Big Three” among the Greek philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) had similar views in that evil is often the result of our humanity (Maxwell & Melete, 2018). As their society moved away from the cosmotheistic belief system that defined a divine retribution or cosmic destruction for a lack of orthopraxic adherence, the stature of the divine was diminished, and humanity became the explanation for the good and ill in the world.

Cosmotheism, or Cosmo-theology, is the term used to describe the pre-axial religions whose pantheon was made up of deified cosmic elements such as the Sun and the Moon. Prior to 900 BCE, most religious practices were centered on appeasing these deities to preserve and protect their way of life; losing favor with any one of these beings could bring death, destruction, and ruin to their tribal societies (Assmann, 2002, p. 204).

The Axial Awakening, also known as the Long Arc of Monotheism, describes the seemingly universal evolution of humanity as they moved from a cosmotheistic view of the world in which the deities were encompassed in forces of nature to the idea that the entire universe is the result of one, first/supreme being that Aristotle referred to as the Unmovable Mover, the being who first set everything into motion but who is not in motion itself. This set the premise for faith practices to devote their energies to a single, “creator” being, thusly creating the backbone for monotheism (Armstrong, 2006, p. 36).

Aristotle was the student of Plato, a philosopher whose work thematically includes his own processing of the words of his teacher, Socrates. Socrates did not create any of his own written works, so much of what is known of his teaching comes to us through the Dialogues of Plato. Socrates was a stonemason like his father who was drafted into the Peloponnesian War in the mid-400’s BCE. After his military service, Socrates began philosophizing against Athenian politics and societal structures such as organized religion. He was eventually put to death for corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and impiety. His death had a profound effect on Plato, whose own faith was shaken, and the status of the gods is further diminished in his work over time. By the time Aristotle was studying under Plato, the divinity was seemingly a social construct and the gods had little to no real influence on the natural world. Aristotle focused heavily on academia, and his work, Metaphysics, is a reflection of his musings. Published after his death, Metaphysics is comprised of the notes found by his own students as the last and sacred thoughts of their mentor. The full transition from deity-centric to academia-centric took place shortly thereafter among the Lyceum students (Maxwell & Melete, 2018).

The views on human suffering and evil were similar among the three philosophers. According to the works of Plato from which the views of Socrates can be extrapolated, suffering in the world is a direct result of a lack of virtue on the part of humanity. Plato further describes the virtue of finding beauty in all things and allowing that recognition to pull the heart to kindness and compassion. Aristotle took this work further to create the discipline of ethics, applied virtue practices (Velasquez, et al., 1988).

ADF has adopted a stance against the “evil” in the natural world in the ritual section known as the Outdwellers. This portion of the service is designed to keep any beings whose “purposes are cross to ours” at bay during our work.  The issue that arises in ritual space lies in who we consider to be Outdwellers, because it changes all the time. When we perform Norse rites, the Outdwellers are the Frost Giants, but may also include beings such as Loki. What does a devotee of Loki do when they hear at the beginning of the rite that their God is not welcome? What if you are a Druid who works primarily with Titans, and they are called en masse as unwelcome guests at a Hellenic rite? What if we have Christopagans in attendance?

While it can be said that ADF has a list of virtues dedicant students are expected to explore, ADF has also been careful to state time and again that these are not to be considered the “ADF Virtues.” ADF encourages exploration of concepts of hospitality as mentioned above, though other such themes are common more in specific pockets of the organization, such as courage and perseverance among the Warriors Guild members.

As an organization, our home page says that we show respect for others through living our virtues, one of which is hospitality. Is it hospitable to make offerings or give bribes to those we deem unsavory and therefore unwelcome at our services? I firmly believe the Outdwellers portion of the service to be more useful as a time to bring healing as we are able to those with whom we have been at cross purposes, especially since I have never encountered any ghosts, ghouls, giants, fae folk, or otherwise shady otherworldly beings who are trying to disrupt and destroy our church services.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Longest Night and Returning Sun

As I've been meditating on what lesson this season brings, I find there are two ways this holiday teaches us about the world and about ourselves. Most of us polytheist folks use them in tandem, but when we do this, are we truly internalizing the fullness of the wisdom being offered?

The modern Solstice practice is based on a generalized retelling from the Norse/Germanic myth cycles. When the end of the world, Ragnarok, is upon us, it will begin with the Fibulwinter when the wolf eats the sun and she doesn't return on solstice morning. In the northernmost areas of Europe, the longest night was LONG--upwards of 16 hours, it seems. They would keep the fires lit in vigil throughout the night to ensure the sun could find her way back and stave off the beginning of the end for one more year. The darkness was feared and the sun was celebrated as a rebirth.

The first lesson in this tale is that of the longest night, the night when darkness is at her height. Comparative mythology tells us of Nyx, known to us commonly as the Hellenic Goddess of Night, but she is far more than that. Nyx appears as a shroud of dark mists that obscures the light of the heavens, Aither, who is notably her daughter. Aither is the daughter of Nyx and Erebos, the embodiment of Darkness. Their other daughter is Hemera, or Day. The shroud of the night coupled with complete darkness, in other words, gives rise to the light of the heavens and the day. The lesson of the Longest Night is to embrace the darkness like a lover. Get to know the inky blackness within. In the darkness, much like a babe in the womb, lies the creative power that brings new life and new light to be.

The lesson of the Returning Sun is first, a reminder not to wallow and despair in the darkness, but to look toward the first rays of illumination that shed light on that which would be created out of the chaos of night. Illumination, to continue the metaphor, does not exist without darkness to dispel. What in your life, then, can you find in the darkness to be reborn in the light? This is truly the gift of the Winter Solstice.

May you find inspiration in the darkest night that grows more each day to the fullness of the Summer Solstice.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Leadership Lesson Bonus Edition: The Art of Delegation

Leadership Expectation: Help Others to Grow

del-e-gate: “To entrust to another. To empower another person to act.”

Delegation is an art. When managed well, those who report to you, whether directly or indirectly, will be more productive and engaged. When handled poorly, they feel incompetent and lack motivation. Delegation is a means of investing in the development of someone else by showing trust and opening communication pathways for true teaching moments. 

There are common “Thinking Barriers” we all have that hold us back from delegating: 
“It is easier to do it myself.” 
“It takes too long to show someone else how to do it.” 
“I don’t trust them to do it right.” 
“People will think I can’t do it myself.”  

Here are some helpful tips to improve your effectiveness as a delegator:
  1. Have the right attitude about delegating. Do your best to ensure they do not feel as though your delegating to them is a burden to you.
  2. Consider the skills and interests of your people. Try to match tasks to the skills and interests of your people.
  3. Delegate the right things. Consider the advancement potential and personal career goals of your people and give them duties that will aid them in moving toward those goals.
  4. Be clear about what you want your employees to do. Make sure your instructions are clear and easy to understand.
  5. Set clear expectations. In addition to clear instructions, take the time to explain the purpose and intent of the task you’ve assigned to them, including due dates and audience.
  6. Give them the authority they need to get the job done. Ensure they are capable of what you’ve asked them to do, including IT permissions, etc.
  7. Be sure to keep an eye on things. After you delegate something, check in to see how things are going. This helps people feel supported and enables you to catch any problems as they arise.
  8. Always provide feedback. Frequent positive AND actionable feedback help others to grow.
  9. Provide guidance when necessary. Helpful tips, when given with good intentions and delivered with a thoughtful spirit, help people succeed and feel supported. 

Bonus Tip: Delegating the right tasks to the right people strengthens the whole team.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Prayer for Courage

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the paralyzer.
Fear holds us back.
Fear darkens our paths.

During this dark time, we light the single flame on our shrine,
Connecting us to all flames,
Reflecting the Fires in the heavens,
Uniting us as one.
We are not alone.

Kindreds, All, I call to you in the face of fear.
I call to Those Who’ve Gone Before to uphold me.
I call to Those Beside Me to stand with me.
I call to Those Above Me to shine upon me.
Kindreds, in solidarity, be with me now.

Aid me, my Gods, in finding within me
The power to lift up mine eyes to meet those of my fear
To weaken its hold on me.
Ancestors, guide me to take back my power
As I wave the banner of my fortitude
Held aloft by the pillar of my inner strength.
Let me be one with my purpose, strengthened in my resolve,
And moved to action despite the chains of my anxiety.
Kindreds, illuminate the way that I may take sure steps
Toward the future I desire.
So be it.