Sunday, December 13, 2020

Holding Space for Curiosity

Ever heard someone say, “Curiosity killed the cat?” The original form of this saying was actually, “Care killed the cat,” attributed to William Shakespeare in the 1500s (Much Ado About Nothing circa 1958). It was meant as a warning against excessive worry and sorrow for others. Since its original use, it has come to be understood as a warning against “unnecessary investigation” or trying something new. 

This change in social understanding of the well-known aphorism is unfortunate. The inquisitive minds are often the ones that make great discoveries and find innovative ways to make the world around us better. Sadly, we tend to foster a negative mindset regarding experimentation and seek efficiency at the expense of exploration and innovation.

Here are some tips to help create a more hospitable environment for curiosity in our lives:

  1. Model Inquisitiveness. Encourage others to curiosity by asking questions—and not just the simple or obvious ones. Ask questions like: What was your favorite part of that [movie/book/meeting]? Why? What part wasn’t what you expected?  What ideas do you have to make it better?
  2. Practice Brainstorming. Especially in a group, create space for everyone’s ideas to be heard without judgment. It takes a lot of trust to think out loud, and the main barrier to doing it is fear of ridicule. 
  3. Emphasize Learning Goals. It is an unfortunate fact that humans learn best through failure. As such, we tend to favor the safe and known ways of doing things with a focus on the results. As the old saying goes, “The journey is more important than the destination.” Help others set goals without a clear journey, even if the destination is outlined well. We need space to try new things and a soft place to land.
  4. Normalize Expanding Interests. Here’s one: Subject Matter Expert. We like having go-to people for specific skillsets, and we tend to ask the same people for the same types of help, because we know they do it. But, what else are our SME’s interested in? Typecasting those around us leads to under-stimulation and can actually fuel burnout. 
  5. Be Attentive to the World Around You. Sometimes, it helps to stand back and look at the big picture and just take it in. Wonder at the ways things move, the chain reactions of causes and their effects, the simple things you may have missed before. Let all those pieces flow in mists of billowing chaos in your mind until something new takes shape. 

Curiosity is important not only because of its ties to innovation but because it is the foundation of competence. A penchant for seeking new experiences, trying new things, and being open to change increases the depth and breadth of what we learn from what we do. 

We are good at being curious on vacation. We stroll through the unfamiliar halls of museums. We browse through little shops off the beaten path. We play dinner roulette on road trips and eat at whatever fun place we are near when we get hungry. But what about in our everyday lives? When was the last time you took a different route to work? How many times a week do you have the same thing for lunch? Above all else, seek out novelty and new challenges to extend and exercise your capacity to explore, to learn, and to live a fuller life. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Good Follower

Personal development programs tend to focus much of their efforts on leadership principles, an important aspect to developing the individual self. Developing a good team, however, relies on fostering the skill of “followership.” It’s straightforward: followership is the ability to take direction and be part of a team to deliver what is expected of the group, department, or area. 

Being labeled an “excellent follower” has been a backhanded compliment signaling an individual’s ineptitude when it comes to leadership potential. Because of this, many modern leaders fear being labeled as a good follower and seek opportunities to assert their dominance. In order to destigmatize the notion of following, this is a skill we need to showcase as leaders. When we practice following others, we are leading by example and showing those around us how to work together for the good of the team instead of the glory of the individuals.

Here are eight qualities of a Good Follower:

  1. Judgment—Followers must learn to take directions, but they have an underlying obligation only to do so when the direction is ethical. We must gain a level of discernment that helps us distinguish between directions we don’t agree with and directions that are wrong.
  2. Work Ethic—Good followers are good workers, diligent and motivated, committed and with good attention to detail. Being a follower means you were trusted to complete a task. Failing to do so, for whatever reason, will hurt your reputation as a leader and break trust with your peers and leaders.
  3. Competence—Followers must know their limits and only agree to complete tasks for which they are competent to perform. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
  4. Honesty—Respect and politeness are important, but it is more important still that the follower also provide open and honest feedback to their leaders. Good leaders are grateful for constructive feedback, and good followers are not afraid to speak the truth as they see it.
  5. Courage—Honesty takes courage. Following someone else takes courage. A good follower faces their fears to fully engage in the work.
  6. Discretion—“Loose lips sink ships” is a favorite saying from WWII. Talking about work inappropriately or to an inappropriate audience undermines the teamwork and reputation of the entire enterprise.
  7. Loyalty—Obligation to the enterprise is essential in a follower, not obligation to an individual leader. It is paramount to the success of the group that each member has their loyalty aligned properly. When our loyalty lies with the enterprise (or the member), it is easier for us to set aside petty differences and focus on what is truly important as the work evolves.
  8. Ego Management—Followers are team players who embrace the fullness of the concept. They have good interpersonal skills. Their performance positively impacts the goal achievement, and their teammates know they are not doing the work for personal recognition or promotion.
  9. Being a Good Follower might feel like placing yourself in the shadow of leadership, but strong followers are essential to success. Without them, our workplace suffers from poor work ethic, bad morale, organizational confusion, and overall poor performance. The most important step to revamping workplace culture is for our leaders to model strong followership as well as strong leadership qualities. 

Vozza, S. (2018). How to be a good follower (and why it’s a skill you need). Career Evolution. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Great Conjunction: December 21, 2020

Science: Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn

Astrology: The Waves of Change

We’ve been living in a Capricorn world, one that is defined by top-down hierarchies, for a decade now, and this year, on December 21, Saturn and Jupiter will be in alignment at exactly 0 degrees Aquarius. (That probably sounds like a lot of new-agey babel, for those of you who don’t follow astrology, but hear me out.) 

You see, there is a limit to how far a top-down hierarchy can go. At some point, it hits the bottom and then has nowhere else to go. they eventually outlive their purpose. Where we are right now is the place where the Saturn-Capricorn Hierarchy has peaked--at the very bottom of our social structures--and from here, it feels like everything is falling apart. 

Imagine the planets as magnets hurling through the cosmos. The current state of things has us oriented with the positive at the bottom, where the most friction and pressure is, and the negative at the top. As the current model approaches the new model with the negative on the bottom, the forces are pushing against one another, refusing to adhere, repelled apart by their charge. With this alignment, auspiciously occurring on Yule this year, we will flip the Capricorn “magnet,” placing the negative force at the bottom, and everything will snap into place. By the time Winter Solstice has arrived, we will feel the chaos begin to abate. The perspective from the top down becomes more and more narrow as it approaches the bottom. The perspective from the bottom grows wider as it reaches for the stars. Jupiter brings vision, and Saturn brings implementation. And with the power at the bottom, there are no limits to where this may take us. 

As we begin our final preparations for the coming of the Solstice and the true new beginning promised to us this year, let us find within ourselves the ability to flip the magnet. What does restructuring look like for you? For me? I hope it looks like a further breakdown of privilege. I hope it looks like those on the top will create space for those who are coming up behind them. I hope it looks like reparations and accountability for the narrow points-of-view that have caused harm, globally and personally. But most of all, I hope it looks like solidarity, equity, and progress toward a just society. Who knows? From where we are, the only direction we can go is up! 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Warding off the Brain Weasels

Yes, you read that correctly: Brain Weasels. Brain. Weasels. Brain Weasels are those little voices in our heads that whisper mean things to us when we make a mistake. They tell us that everything we fear is going to happen. That our self-doubt is simply being reasonable. That whatever we imagine will go wrong is currently going wrong and it’s all. Our. Fault. 

The use of the term, “brain weasel,” comes to us from the mental health world where they use narrative therapy and externalization to help folks with anxiety and depression isolate and combat this harmful internal dialogue. Rather than referring to the negative self-talk as one more thing we are doing wrong, decentering the behavior to our “brain weasels” and using therapeutic humor helps to break the cycle and allows us to explore our self-critical dialogue. 

Our brain weasels are our fears, and like all emotions, they are trying to tell us something. An important part of our personal development as leaders is to learn to look at our fears objectively, so we can find the foundation of our concerns. From there, we can take back our brains from those weasels who want to keep us down.

In matters of leadership, one of the biggest brain weasels has a name. He’s big, he’s loud, and he loves to show up when you’ve done something well. He’s the worst of them all, because he takes the joy and the feelings of pride out of our accomplishments. His name is Imposter Syndrome. 

Imposter Syndrome is a common issue among high achievers. He tells us we are inadequate and incompetent. He tells us our successes are based on luck and not skill, and eventually everyone around us will know that we are frauds. When we break it down and get to the foundation, we find the brain weasel is a fear of failure. 

Here are the most common types of Imposter Syndrome behaviors as outlined here. If you see any of these in yourself, it might be time to confront your brain weasel!

  1. The Perfectionist. These folks set excessively high goals for themselves and are harsh with themselves for any deviation from their desired outcome. They tend to be control freaks/micromanagers who have a motto: “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” This type can lead to burnout and negative interpersonal relationships, particularly with those who report to them.
  2. The Superhuman. These folks are convinced they are phonies and try to make up for it by overachieving. If their coworkers are at work for nine hours, they will be there for ten. They gave up all of their hobbies to hyper-focus on their work and their only happiness comes from external validation. Constructive criticism is like a blow to the chest. This type often ends up a workaholic.
  3. The Natural Genius. These folks are often young or have risen to a high place of power very quickly. They base their own competence on their ease of adjusting and the speed at which they achieve their goals. They have to “just be good” at everything. This is common amongst people who were high achievers in high school, typically seen in graduates with high IQs who never really learned how to study or work on something hard for them. This type tends to quit as soon as they realize they can’t just do it. 
  4. The Soloist. These folks are independent to a fault. “I’ll do it myself,” and “I don’t need help” are their mantras. This type often experiences failure when they need to ask for help, because they feel asking for help reveals their incompetence. Fear of asking for help can lead this type to drown and need rescuing.
  5. The Expert. These folks measure their competence by how much and how many things they know or can do. They will never be enough and fear they will be outed as unintelligent or inexperienced. They don’t apply for jobs unless they already meet every requirement, they constantly seek out trainings and certificates in case they will need them later, and shy away from being called a SME no matter how long they’ve been in their role. This type has a tendency to procrastinate AND over-prepare all at the same time. They hoard knowledge, but because they never feel like they have enough, they miss opportunities by putting off taking advantage of them until they are “ready.”

Studies suggest that ~70% of adults experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career. Our brain weasels tell us we will never be enough, that we don’t deserve our accolades, and that our successes are based on luck. Ward off your brain weasels by learning to accept and embrace your capabilities and your accomplishments. We will never be done learning. We will never know everything or be perfect, and we need to learn to make peace with that. Otherwise, the brain weasels win.

Monday, November 16, 2020

What Do You Do?

Making friends as an adult is quite different than when I was a kid. In my younger days, I used to walk right up to someone, ask if they wanted to play, and off we would go! —racing toward the swings or the merry-go-round, all arms akimbo and giggling. We didn’t have to pre-screen one another for common interests or make polite small talk until we felt safe enough to share more intimate and personal details about ourselves. We both had the same agenda: to play. We didn’t have to worry about anything other than the pure connection between us as kids. 

Adult interactions typically all start the same: 

“Hi, my name is Missy.” 

"Hi, Missy; it’s nice to meet you. What do you do?” 

What do you do? I never realized what a loaded question that is. When asked this question, we are expected to talk about our line of work. What they are really asking is: what do you do to make a living? I am one of those fortunate souls whose career—how I make my living—is something that I love. Medical technology is a fascinating, challenging, and rewarding field, and I greatly respect the healthcare system that employs me. In our capitalist society, we are taught the unspoken rules about the power of money and its use as a measure of success. How we make our money—and how much money we make—award us social privilege based on the caricature of success against which we are compared. 

But making money isn’t all there is to life.  As author John Beckett puts it: “how you make a living and how you make a life are two different things.” While I enjoy my line of work, it is how I make a living. It is what I do to earn money to pay my bills and to buy my groceries. If there’s anything left after that, I spend it on what is truly important to me: the things I do to make a life. 

Next time someone asks me, “What do you do?” I think I will answer them with the things I do to make a life. It’ll go a little something like this:

I am an early riser, preferring the company of the sunrise to the company of the stars, though I am happy to share a view of the night sky with a friend.

I enjoy cool, rainy days and fresh, warm coffee; red wine and soft cheese; crisp salad and seared red meat. 

 I am a fan of Sumo and am learning Japanese so I can understand the commentators.

I spend more time with my husband than anyone else, because he is the love of my life and my best friend.

I find vaguely relevant times to insert fandom quotes from books, movies, and TV series that I constantly revisit to escape into my beautifully vivid and hyperactive imagination—especially if the other party will understand the reference and smile. 

I watch the lives of my children unfold as these tiny humans who once lived as a part of me now exist apart from me, becoming with every new day independent lights in the universe. 

I cry at television commercials, laugh loudly at awkward times, and get frustrated with jar lids. 

I pray to the Old Gods and to the gods of the natural world who are best observed when wind whispers in the trees and dewdrops glisten on flower petals. 

I play guitar until my fingers hurt and sing loudly in my car. 

I laugh, I love, and I live. I live.

That is what I do to make a life. What do you do?

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Lessons of Trick or Treat

Halloween as we know it is relatively new. Trick or treat customs in the United States were well-established by the 1950's, and little has changed in the last 50 years. When we seek the origins of the customs, the history is murky at best. As far as we can tell, the custom of wearing costumes came about some several hundred years ago in the Celtic lands where Samhain was still celebrated collectively in the UK and parts of continental Europe (known then as Gaul). During this season, the spirits of the dead were said to return to our plane. In honor of their visit, they lit bonfires and offered sacrifices, typically of food and drink, to pay homage to the departed. 

The costumes came first. It is unclear when, but sometime before the middle ages, the villagers would dress in costumes of animal skin to drive away phantom visitors. Banquet tables were set out away from the main celebrations for any unwelcome guests. As time passed, this custom shifted, and people began dressing as ghosts, demons, and otherworldly characters in exchange for food and drink (enter in the treats) in a custom known as "mumming." Mumming is thought to be the precursor to our modern festivities. Poorer families would dress in costumes and visit the homes of those more fortunate for offerings of pastries called "soul cakes" in return for prayers for the wealthy family's departed loved one. The children began going door to door alone to ask for gifts such as food, money, or ale. Eventually, the prayers were forgotten, and the masked children would sing dance, or recite a poem in exchange for treats. By 1605, the custom shifted once more to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. The celebration known as "Guy Fawkes Day" involved communal bonfires or "bone fires" where they burned effigies of Guy Fawkes and of the bones of the Catholic Pope. By the 1800's, the children were seen carrying effigies of Guy Fawkes through the streets in search of "pennies for a Guy."

American colonists, especially the immigrants who were fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped popularize Halloween on the United States, since many of them were in need of the gifts of food and drink. Alas, it was in the 1920's when the pranksters first appeared, and the notion of the "trick" was added to the giving of treats. Treats were no longer exchanged for prayers but given in the hopes that the generosity would win the householder a by when the pranksters were choosing their targets. Large-scale community trick-or-treating really took hold during the Great Depression when the tricks took the shape of more physical violence and vandalism, but the trends were brought to a halt when the sugar rationing of WWII went into effect. The reemergence of trick-or-treating in the more benign form we know today came about in the 1950's when the baby boomers fellsway to national televised advertising campaigns targeting children with candy and costume parties, and the customs we celebrate today were solidified (at least for now). 

Okay, but what lessons do these practices hold for us? The easy lesson is this: honor your Ancestors, whose names live on as long as those who live remember them. That covers the Samhain and the prayer custom, but what of trick or treating?

The idea of treats in exchange for prayers and entertainment is not a far stretch from our practice of reciprocity. It is an exchange of a gift-for-a-gift among the fourth kindred--humanity. It is a time for generosity in exchange for a glimpse of the manifestation of a child's creative mind, heroes, and beloved characters. It is an exchange for the sake of simple pleasure (because let's be honest, there are very few places where the treats are good for us!). Yes, the gluttony is a risk for those who are not skilled in moderation, but for those of us guiding our young ones, it is a tremendous opportunity to practice and teach them this important virtue. 

Finally, the lesson of the trick. Sometimes, when we give, reciprocity is not there. It's not a pleasant thought, and I am sure many of us have examples in our own lives when we felt our generosity was met with a "trick" instead of a treat placed gently in our open and empty hands. But, this is an important lesson, because reciprocity is not a guarantee. Hospitality is not one-sided. Someone else's generosity cannot be bought with our own. The underlying lesson of du ut des, "I give that you may give," is not one of contractual obligation. It is far more "charitable and nuanced:" 

It is an economy of piety. The theory of do ut des is that we give the Gods something of worth, and in exchange, we receive from Them something of value, which results in us giving more worth to the Gods, which results in receiving something else of value, and so forth. Instead of being a mere business transaction, it is the establishment of a fundamental cycle of gift exchanging where one participates in a “continual engagement between an individual and a deity that could stretch over a lifetime.” ~Hellenic Faith

For me, the lesson of the trick is one that has been hard to learn for a person from a materialistic and capitalist society. So much of what our social mores teach is that "we get what we pay for." When it comes to the commerce of human relationships, this is not necessarily true. A little gift can go a long way, and a big gift can leave us with empty hands and a broken heart. 

Wow, Missy, that's a depressing take on this.....yes, and the point is that our generosity must be for the sake of our generosity--not used as a means to deserve generosity from others, though there is a component of generosity that may compel others to be generous with us. AND it's not guaranteed. 

In short, we give treats for the sake of giving treats to the children in our neighborhoods, and what we receive in return is knowing we have given them a little piece of joy. THAT is the true lesson here. We give because we want others to be happy. That's it. No pressure. No obligations. No strings attached. We give. And the lesson is to make the giving be enough to bring us joy. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Journey to Helheim--Communing with the Ancestors

Please have a candle and incense available to aid in your journey.

May we be pure that we may pass through the sacred.
May we pass through the sacred that we may attain the holy.
May we attain the holy that we may be blessed in all things.
So say we all.

Welcome and Opening Statements
We gather under the light of this Samhain moon,
Cresting into fullness and lighting the way for our Ancestors,
Those Gone Before Us,
As the thinning veil is but a mist between us.
Tonight, we travel to honor our Mighty Dead
And the Lady who rules their dwelling places:
Hela, Dark Goddess of Helheim, of the Underworld.
Be welcome and safe in this space.

Honoring the Earth Mother
We begin these rites as we always do:
By honoring the Earth Mother.
Hail to Thee, Nerthus,
Earth Mother of Humanity,
Known in this place as Colorado.
Be Thou blessed and bless us as well!
You who feed us, generation after generation,
with the harvest of your bones and body.
Nerthus, Earth Mother, accept our offering.
Offer grains or clean water.

Grounding and Centering
With Earth Mother upholding us, we ground ourselves in preparation of this work. Take a moment to find the center of your mind, body, and spirit: The Sacred Center within you. Close your eyes, if you will, and turn your mind’s eye toward the cosmos.

With your mind’s eye peering out from your Sacred Center, see before you the World’s Tree, the Great Tree of Life at the center of the Cosmos, the Tree that is the container for the cosmology’s water. See the Waters flowing out from the branches to drip into the pools at the base of the Tree only to be drawn up through the roots and moved through the trunk as tiny, twinkling lights of magic. See these lights as they move through the branches and leaves, falling into the pool at the base of the tree and beginning the cycle anew.

Our work today takes place in the space where the chaos of the waters meets the order of the tree. Without the chaos, the tree grows brittle and unyielding, standing in crystalline beauty but devoid of life. Conversely, without the order, the waters become tumultuous and harsh, rolling through the land and destroying all in their wake. Place yourself at the meeting of these great powers, where ocean meets the land and from which grows the Tree, holding chaos and order in harmony, fluidity where there would be rigidity, quiet where there would be cacophony.

Lean back against the tree and become one with her power. Feel the magic of the waters flowing through you, up through your roots, filling your trunk, and flowing up and up and up through to the ends of your branches. Feel these waters drip, drip, drip from your leaves, and splash subtly into the waters at your feet to disappear into the earth and begin their journey through the Tree once more. Rest in this space, in perfect love and perfect trust.

Your center is now aligned and grounded within The Center of the Cosmos, feeding the Tree with chaos, putting the Waters in Order. You are ready to do the work of this rite. Open your eyes if you will, retaining your connection to the Sacred Center, both within you and within the Cosmos, connected to all who share in this work as one people, the Children of the Earth.

Three Kindreds Invitations
Firmly grounded and centered in ourselves and in this place, 
We invite our guests to join us.

We call first to the spirits of the land,
Our allies and guides in this realm.
Spirits of stone and soil,
And of gem and metal, we call to you.
Spirits of leaf and stem,
And of branch and root and blade, we call to you.
Spirits of skin and blood,
And of fur and feather and scale, we call to you.
Spirits of our guides and allies,
Unseen elements who share this realm with us, we call to you
to join us in this holy work.
Nature Spirits, accept our offering.
Offer grains or seeds.

We call also to our allies among the heavens,
To the Gods, Goddesses, and Deities of this land,
Those remembered and long forgotten,
Those whose blood courses in the rivers and streams,
Those whose voices echo through the trees,
We sing your praises and ask you to join us today.
To the Deities of those gathered here,
Those who shine their blessings upon us,
Those who council our thoughts and dreams,
We sing your praises and ask you to join us today.
To the Shining Ones, all,
to all those Gods, Goddesses, and Deities
Who illuminate days and nights,
Who light the fires of our hearths and hearts,
We sing your praises and ask you to join us in this holy work.
Shining ones, accept our offering.
Offer oil or spirits.

And we call to our Ancestors.
To our Beloved Dead,
Those of body who gave of their blood,
Those of heart who gave of their love,
Those of Wisdom who have uncovered great truths,
Those of Hearth who taught us to honor the Old Ways:
We stand now upon the foundation of your lives works.
We stand in strength for the successes you earned
And the failures from which you learned,
Now and always, a part of your legacy.
We honor your memory and ask you to join us in this holy work.
Ancestors, accept our offering.
Offer coins.

In your mind’s eye, see them as they come. Your guides among the natural world, your allies among the heavens, and your loved ones who have departed this world, just beyond the veil. Feel them as they join you around this holy Fire, fed by the waters of the cosmos, just as we are, part of one universe in wisdom and love. Greet them and let them be welcome.

Journey to Helheim
With our guides beside us, both natural and divine, with our Ancestors awaiting us, longing for our company, We prepare to turn our minds down, down into the Underworld to the dwelling place of our loved ones and respected ones who have gone before us. All the tools you will need are available to you in the pack at your side.

First, Children of Earth, we must ward ourselves and make ready, for the sounds of life resound loudly in the Halls of the Dead. We cloak ourselves in the same manner in which Groa cloaked her son, Svipdagr, to prepare him for the journey.

First, we create a barrier that will cast off anything harmful.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a cloak upon your shoulders.
Second, we prevent ourselves from wandering, deprived of will, in the ways.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a scarf upon your head.
Third, we protect ourselves against the power of rivers which might overwhelm us and cause us to sink into the bowels of Hel.
    Feel the weight of the spell as water rushing past your feet and lapping gently at your calves.
Fourth, we turn the hearts of enemies who lie in wait for us away from their hostility.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a warmth blooming in your chest.
Fifth, we loosen any fetter that may be laid upon our limbs.
    Feel the weight of the spell as bangled jewels upon your wrists and ankles.
Sixth, we calm the raging sea, wilder than men know.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a staff in your hands.
Seventh, we preserve ourselves from death from intense cold on the high fells.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a fire before you, warming your skin.
Eighth, we protect ourselves from the malignant powers of those who lurk within, if we are suddenly overcome with darkness.
    Feel the weight of the spell as the coolness of the moon upon your face.
Ninth, we grant ourselves eloquence and wisdom when we converse with the wise and terrible giant who stands before the realm with eagle’s wings as well as with all those who dwell below.
    Feel the weight of the spell as a tingling on your tongue.
We declare ourselves protected, grounded, and ready. So be it! 

Thusly warded, we must also call on a guide whose powers will allow mortals such as ourselves not only entrance to the realm of the Dead, though we may be easily allowed in, but also a way back, for Hel does not easily release those who enter so freely into its mists. As many have done before us, we call to Sleipnir to aid and ward us in this work.

Sleipnir, Mighty Steed of Odin,
Fastest and strongest of horses
Who glides on eight stalwart legs,
Runes carved into your very teeth,
We call you now to come forth!
You have guided Odin through realms of spirit and matter,
Over land, sea and sky.
We have brought gifts for you,
which we give freely in honor and in reverence,
And in return, we ask that you guide us also as you have Hermodr
On our journey over the Gjollar bridge and into the heart of Helheim,
There to greet those who have gone before us
To commune with our Ancestors
And to honor the Goddess, Hela, in all her majesty.

See now before you, the awesome eight-legged stallion: Dark and strong, Eyes like cloudy night, Breath like the smoke of a smoldering fire. See him as he bends before you to allow you onto his back, Knowing he has accepted the request to carry us into—and back from—the Realm of the Dead.

Sleipnir, with his great speed, shall carry us through the cold ring of fire at the entrance to the burial mound, over a nine days’ journey through mists and eternal blackness to the Crystal Bridge thatched with glittering gold called Gjollar, which crosses the Gjoll River, full of weapons, flowing from the spring of Hvergelmir. The maiden, Modgudr, asks us our names and our purpose. We each give our names and state our purpose: to pay homage to the Lady who rules here and to greet our beloved dead during Winter Nights, the time of the Ancestors. She smiles to us, noting the presence of the Giant Horse, and bids us down and north, toward Helheim.

So, onward we travel, through caverns with jagged rocks and dripping waters, along Hels-way. Darkness surrounds us, and we are washed in the winds from the wings of the giant Hraesvelg who sits at the edge of the world in the form of a giant eagle. Downward, further and further, beneath the third root of Yggdrasil. In the distance, growling rumbles, most likely from Garm, the four-eyed hound with chest drenched in blood who guards the entrance to Hel. Do not fear him, for those who have given bread to the poor can easily appease him with one of the Hel cakes in the saddlebag, if he dares venture from the Gnipa-cave and into the presence of Sleipnir.

Darkness begins to give way as we approach the iron gates, thrown back in anticipation of our arrival. One final deep breath as we pass through the Gates of Hel.

And lo, there she stands, Hela, Goddess of the Underworld and Ruler of all nine realms of the dead. The power is hers at the wave of her hand to heal and to curse, Half of her body, a beautiful maiden, half of her, death and decaying flesh. She rests on her high seat, gown of black and red satin shimmering in the light of the hearth. Her cloaked face lies in shadow, with the flickering light of flames ever-changing her face.Hela, the embodiment of life and death, sits regally, perfectly balanced in her beauty and her horror. We speak to her, seeking her permission to dwell within her world:

Hela, daughter of Giants, Ruler over the Nine Realms of the Ancestors. The Children of the Earth have come to your hall to pay respect to you and to those over whom you hold dominion.  We come bearing gifts to lie at your feet, for you, into whose hands we commend our spirits at our life-journey’s end.  Dark Goddess, Hela, receive now these gifts.

We lay flowers and spirits, grains and poetry at her feet. She nods in acceptance of the bounty before her. At her pleasance, the Ancestors begin to join us in the hall.  In your mind’s eye, you begin seeking those you know are here: Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and a myriad of Heart-Kin. Find those loved ones who have gone before you, greet them with all your heart, open and ready to commune awhile. See them now, whomever you hold in your heart who dwells now in these halls.

Ancestors Visitation Song:
From far beyond this mortal plane, mothers and fathers of old,
We pray that you return again, mothers and fathers of old.
To share with us the mysteries and secrets long untold,
Of the ancient ways we seek to reclaim, mothers and fathers of old.

Take a moment to make notes of all you have seen and been told here, all the wisdom Hela and the Ancestors have given to you. Mark them for remembrance as we begin the long journey home.

We bid farewell to our beloved Ancestors, sharing lingering embraces full of love. We bow and bid a humble farewell to the Queen of Helheim, Hela. We mount once more our noble guide, take one last look around the hall, and bid him take us home.

Sleipnir, you whose presence allows us to return, lead us back through the gates, onward and upward, back through the darkness through which we came. We arrive back at the Gjollar-bridge, where Modgudr nods to us and allows us to cross the bridge southward once more. Over nine days’ journey, Sleipnir, speed us back to our shrines!

Children of Earth become aware once more of the world around you and reorient yourself.
Stand, stretch, come around to full awareness.

Thanking the Beings
Before we end this work, we must thank those who have aided us.
Beginning with Hela: Dark Goddess! 
For your leadership and for the care of our dear beloved Ancestors 
after they leave our sides in this world, we are grateful. 
Hela! We thank you! Hail and Farewell!
Sleipnir! For your guidance and protection, we thank you. Hail and Farewell!
Ancestors, Nature Kin, and Shining Ones, for all your aid, 
We offer you our full honor and thanks. 
Hail and Farewell!

Thanking the Earth Mother
Nerthus, be thou blessed!
We thank you for your blessings, beauty, and bounty.
Earth Mother, we thank you.

Closing the Rite
May all be as it was, only better for having been touched by the work we have done here tonight. Go now in peace and with the blessings of the Ancestors in your memory.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Norse Recreation of the Cosmos and Opening of the Ways

(Re)Creating the Cosmos

In our tradition, the Sacred Tree, among the Norse Kin referred to as Yggdrasil, is the World Tree, the Axis Mundi, the pillar of the worlds that anchors the Sacred Center at which we hold our rites and do our work. It is beneath the branches of this Tree with the roots running deep into the ground to draw from the Sacred Waters that feed the Well of Wisdom and branches crowned high in the sky, upholding the Sacred Fire above, that we recreate the cosmos that we may stand at the Sacred Center of the Worlds.

The Sacred Tree not only holds the Sacred Center in place, but also acts as a gateway through which our offerings and prayers may echo through the Nine Realms.
We bless this Tree (cense and asperge) and mark it as Sacred once more as we recreate the cosmos here in our midst. Sacred Tree, Grow within us!
So, too, does the Well before us serve as a portal through which our love, honor, and respect may be received by the Ancestors, our beloved heroes and kin of old, and through which they may return their knowledge and blessings.
We silver the Well (drop silver) and mark it as sacred once more as we recreate the cosmos here in our midst. Sacred Well, Flow within us!
So, too, does the Fire serve as a gate to the upper realm, to Asgard, where our prayers and devotion may be received by the Gods themselves, consuming and transforming our offerings as we feed them unto the flames.
We kindle and feed the Fire (pour oil) and mark it as sacred once more as we recreate the cosmos here in our midst. Sacred Fire, Burn within us!

Gatekeeper Invocation

Heimdallr, Holy One; Hallinskihdi, Whitest As,
Keen-eared and sharp-eyed, biding on Bïfrost,
Gjallerhorn's holder, to you we offer.
Son of Nine Mothers, by Fire and by Water,
Sire of Jarl's sons, Shining guardian,
Rune-shower Rigr, Hight Jötun bane
Great golden-toothed Turner of hearths,
Unsleeping reed-giver who hears the wool grow
Well-known wise watcher, Warder of Asgard,
Heimdalr, we hail you!
Heimdalr, Accept our offerings!

Opening the Ways 

Now we bid Bïfrost be here among us!
Descend from the dwelling of the Gods, bright Asgard,
A rainbow of light from all ways flowing.
Carry our calling to all the Kindreds!
By Nine Flames shining, by Waters flowing,
By Heimdalr's magic, and by our word and will,
Let the Ways Between be open!

Visualize the ways between the realms opening before you, in your mind's eye and in your heart. Let yourself be open to the magic and fellowship of this rite and these allies. Meet them with reverence and love in your words, thoughts, and deeds. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Beyond Yes Means Yes: A Glossary of Terms Related to Consent

Rev. William and I had the opportunity to prepare a workshop for the upcoming Summerland Gathering. Summerland is an ADF festival that is typically held in Yellow Springs, OH. Due to COVID restrictions, this year's event has been moved online. 

One of the things that became apparent as we've been working through the material is the need for a proper glossary of terms. It is difficult to have a discussion if we don't have consensus on the meanings of the words we use to communicate such important issues and ideas. 

To help create a framework for building a culture of consent, including religious consent, I am sharing our glossary (so far) that we may all understand one another fully. Please let me know what words we need to add!

  • Boundaries: guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits. They are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.
  • Cancel Culture: the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.
  • Coercion: the practice of forcing another party to act in an involuntary manner by use of threats or force.
  • Consent: voluntarily agreeing to the proposal or desires of another.
  • Culture: the social behavior and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.
  • Culture of Consent: a culture which normalizes the action of asking for consent and respecting whatever responses are given. It affirms that each individual has bodily autonomy and maintains that boundaries (a person's right to choose what is comfortable to them) should be respected unconditionally.
  • Dominance: individual, situational, and relationship patterns which attempt to control another party or parties; a personality trait which involves a motive to control others, the self-perception of oneself as controlling others, and/or a behavioral outcome resulting from these motives or perceptions.
  • Dominance Hierarchy: a set of implicit social norms that guide behavior according to social status.
  • Ghosting: the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.
  • Horsing: a type of possession in which a practitioner allows their body to become a vessel, usually temporarily, for another being. 
  • Intimacy: close familiarity or friendship; closeness.
  • Mediation/Mediating: a dynamic, structured, interactive process where an impartial third-party assists disputing parties in resolving conflict through the use of specialized communication and negotiation techniques.
  • Orthodoxy: “right belief;” the idea that there is a correct or true belief.
  • Orthopathy: “right feeling;” the idea that there are correct ways to feel with someone(s).
  • Orthopraxy: “right practice;” the idea that there is a correct way to do something.
  • Peer Pressure: influence from one’s peer group to behave in a specific way.
  • Power: latent possession of control, authority, or influence over others.
  • Privilege: a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed by a particular person or a restricted group of people beyond the advantages of others, often based on social identifiers or economic circumstances.
  • Professionalism: conducting oneself with responsibility, integrity, and accountability.
  • Quid pro quo: a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.
  • Sex: a collection of intimate physical behaviors that the individual(s) involved define as such (e.g. kissing, touching certain body parts, etc.).
  • Value: one's judgment of what is important in life.
  • Virtue: a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus identified as a foundation of principle and good moral being, moral excellence, traits that promote collective and individual greatness.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Leadership Tip 10: Leading Through Change

Leadership Expectation: Be a Visionary

Everyone reacts differently to the prospect of change, and most of these reactions are based on emotion. When an individual is presented with a change, their response will be informed by their internal opinion on whether this is a “good” or a “bad” change—and we each decide what is good and what is not based on our past experiences. Change is inevitable, and helping others manage their responses is a big part of leading through it.

Tips for leading others through change:
  • Make a good first impression. As leaders, folks around us watch to see how we will react. Then, they use this observation to inform their own reaction. When presenting the team with a change, try to find the positive or at least deliver the news in a positive way without going overboard or minimizing the scope of the effect. When your positivity fails, try confidence as a way to carry your message. State facts instead of opinions, and keep conversations focused on those.
  • Be consistent. Continuing to move forward with a positive attitude, even in smaller group settings, is an important part of keeping the positive vibe around the change. If we speak in a positive manner in front of the group but talk down about the change in private conversations, this will not only diminish the positivity of the team but will also serve to hurt the trust they have in you as a leader.
  • Keep communication open. Be honest, be straightforward, ask questions, and leave room for answers.
  • Relieve barriers as they arise. With change comes a learning curve as well as potential barriers to successful implementation. As a leader, do not hesitate to escalate when a barrier arises and help alleviate what you can.
  • Model the behavior you want to see. Be the champion of the change! Reward and reinforce the positive behaviors and coach those reluctant to accept the change to work their way toward acceptance.
  • Most of all, give people time. Even if a change must occur immediately, everyone needs to work through their emotions on their own pace. Working through their emotions does not mean they do not have to comply. It just means they don’t have to like it. 

A note of caution: leading through change does not mean WE will not experience our own emotions. We must also give ourselves the time we need to adjust to the change. Being open and honest about our concerns and fears and moving forward in spite of them will demonstrate the culture of how our collective "we" adopts and implements change.

Tip #10: When faced with a change, lead others through it with confidence, honesty, and consistency. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Blue Flower

The Summer Solstice is usually a time for in-person celebrations: food, fun, sunshine, and fellowship. This year, with the social distancing in full swing, it feels a lot less festive. This seriousness in the air has left me a bit more contemplative than usual, and the following is a result of such musings.

As many of you know, my youngest son has stayed here in Colorado with us for the summer. The older two will also be staying in Columbus for safety. To help alleviate the pang of loss, I've dedicated to taking him hiking every weekend for the duration of the good weather. Our first couple of hikes were at the Rabbit Mountain Open Space, since many of the other trails were closed temporarily (more social distancing). I was surprised by the tapestry of flowers visible this time of year, since I typically only hike in the later summer months when the older kids are in town. I took dozens of photos of all the plants I met along the way, but one flower in particular captured my thoughts.

There was this tiny blue flower, tall stem, little green leaves, four petals, growing straight up in the shadow of a large bush. At first glance, it looked really lonely in there. There were so many other flowers just six feet away, and here is sat, in this dark space, alone. It looked to fragile there. I didn't take a photo of this flower, because of the looming bush. but the image was burned into my mind. What was it about that flower that was so remarkable?

After another mile or more of walking and thinking, I had the realization that the flower, seemingly alone in the dark, was actually well protected. The bush provides shade from the harsh desert sun and a barrier from the powerful mountain winds. It won't be bent or broken by a rainstorm or trampled by a human. It's free to be there, safe and hidden away from what would cause it harm. Then it hit me: this flower is so remarkable to me, because it IS me.

My life hasn't always been easy or gone as planned. I've been through some pretty big things, and in the shadows of my own thoughts and feelings, I have felt alone and isolated. But, I have also been blessed with protection, support, and shelter from the storms that rage around me--and that has made all the difference.

During this time of uncertainty when the world feels far away, remember that in the darkness surrounding you are a whole host of others who are your companions in this. Draw strength and comfort from them and know you are not alone, just like that blue flower.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Kisa Gotami and the Mustard Seeds: A Tale of Growth through Understanding

Read the tale of Kisa Gotami and a lesson in compassion on the Mountain Ancestors Blog: Prairie Tidings.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Leadership Tip 9: Recognizing and Leveraging Strengths

Leadership Expectation: Support Personal Development

We’ve spoken at length about recognizing and leveraging the strengths of our team members, but what does that mean? How do we determine a person’s strengths, let alone “leverage” them? 

It starts with relationship-building. As we build professional relationships, part of our getting to know one another must involve making note of self-reported best qualities (what others think they are good at) as well as observed performance (what we have evidence that they are good at). The four most common and useful strengths are: Communication Skills, Planning Skills, Problem-Solving Skills, and Tenacity. 

Communication skills are not always easy to teach. Some folks are inherently good communicators and others are decidedly not. Placing a good communicator in connection with an under-communicator can often help the under-communicator to improve.

Planners and note-takers are typically undervalued, but these folks are necessary, especially for complex projects or long-term goals. They are also typically good at keeping track of progress and seeing the big picture where others may only see the parts relevant to them. 

Problem-solvers think outside the box, and when you find yourself stuck in one, you will be grateful for their ability to find solutions to problems that allude the rest of the team.

Tenacity is a latent skill that doesn’t show itself until it is needed. Tenacious employees rise to the top when the going gets tough. They perform well under stress and often do their best thinking under difficult circumstances (when the planners start to lose it). 

Finding the strengths of our team members is an important part of developing them as individuals, because it shows us what types of tasks will help them grow and which ones will give them the opportunity to shine. Development is a balance of validating the skills they already have while pushing them to try new things. 

Start now by building relationships and getting to know what those around you are doing well. Make note of when they ask for help and what those tasks are. As we build these strengths profiles for those around us, we can open ourselves to finding the right balance of tasks to lead our employees to become better versions of themselves. 

Finally, personal development mandates that you also make a list of your own strengths. What are you good at? What do you struggle with? Where do you have room to grow? Learning to recognize and leverage your own strengths will show you best how to do this for those around you.

Tip #9: Find the balance between doing what you know you are good at and trying something new.

Bonderud, D. (2018). How to identify and leverage employee strengths. Spark. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Journey of Protection and Knowledge

You may wish to grab some paper and a pen, etc., to write down notes at the end of this journey.

Breathe with me. Breathe in and feel your lungs expanding with fresh, clean air. Exhale and feel yourself letting go of the worries and concern you’ve been holding. Feel your shoulders relax, feel your body sink deeper into your chair, feel yourself at peace as you continue to breathe.

In your mind’s eye, you see a path before you. It is a path you’ve walked before, and you know it leads to your inner nemeton, the place within the otherworld where you meet with your spirit allies. As you begin to follow this path, you notice the signs of wildlife and new growth. This place smells of wildflowers and damp, cool earth. You breathe in these smells, filling your heart as you fill your lungs, with memory.

When you reach the nemeton, you notice a fire in the center of the clearing, right where you’ve kindled it many times before, and you know others have been here, tending and caring for this place as is your bargain. You walk to the altar where fresh flowers have been strewn about the shrine of the Earth Mother, grain spilled onto the ground in her honor. You add your offerings to this shrine with reverence and respect. You feel her gratitude in the bottom of your feet—a deep heart-beat pulsation in the earth.

You take up the solid incense and oil and move to the fire. You take your seat before the hearth and make offerings, calling to those who would guide you in this work. You speak their names into the aether within and feel their echoing reply.

Now, rest deeply into your seat before the fire and allow your mind’s eye vision to blur. Close your eyes, if you would like, and follow the path of your breath to your center. Create a sphere of protection within yourself, and enfold your heart within it, protecting you from emotional pain and suffering. Breathe in and as you exhale, enlarge the sphere to include your mind, protecting you from painful thoughts and psychic harm. Breathe in and as you exhale, enlarge the sphere to encompass your entire body, shielding you from that which means you ill. And as you breathe in once more, enlarge the sphere to encase the clearing where your nemeton lies, protecting all those you allow within from outside harm.

Seated, safe and protected, within your sphere, you open your mind’s eye to see the shimmering boundary of your orb, swirling and pearlescent in the firelight. You see a shape approaching the orb which resolves into a familiar one—your guide and guardian, come to stand sentinel in your space, admitting those who pass scrutiny for good intentions.

Now, open your awareness to take in your surroundings. You feel animal and plant spirits going about their business in the clearing and beyond. You see others, beings you know, appearing, drawn by your Good Fire. They come before your guardian ally.  They nod to one another and the first being enters. You gesture for them to sit opposite you across the hearth and wait. When they are settled, you ask why they have come and listen to their words intently, making note of them in your waking mind to recall later. *pause*

They thank you and rise to depart with the council you have given them. You look toward your guardian ally to see if anyone else comes, repeating the hospitality and sharing as others arrive, noting their requests and concerns. *pause*

You sit mindfully with the fire when all the guests have gone, reflecting on what you have learned. *pause*

After careful cataloging of the experiences and requests made of you, you rise, and thank your guardian for their work. You begin to retract your sphere, slowly shrinking the orb until it encompasses you alone and becomes one with your flesh, a protective layer that shimmers, brightens, and fades into you.

You wave your hand over the fire, which dims, smolders, and finally goes out, trails of smoke leaving the spent logs like incense in a censer. You begin walking away from your nemeton with a final nod in thanks to the Earth, Mother of all, who witnesses and holds your every journey.

Once you have reached the place where you began, you turn your mind’s eye back to your physical body. Become aware of your heartbeat. Feel your breath in your lungs. Feel your body in your chair and begin to stretch and awake yourself once more. When you have fully arrived, take a moment to recall your exchanges, preparing to share what you can with us.

Write a few notes, if you wish, to remind you of what you have learned today.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Leadership Tip 8: Everyone Leads

Leadership Expectation: Promote Team Mentality

The dominant leadership paradigm in the United States is one in which few lead and everyone else is expected to follow. As we all know, this approach works in crisis moments, but for general operation, expecting everyone to be a follower will not result in a strong team. Part of building or re-building a team lies in our ability to promote the strengths of every team member in a way that shows each person how important they are to the team. When done successfully, everyone is a leader, and the team will flourish even when management is not physically present.

Here are the five core values of building a team where Everyone Leads:

Focus on Assets. Instead of focusing on what you think your team needs to get in order to be successful, focus on what assets they already have. Everyone is both “half-empty” and “half-full.” We all have strengths and areas for improvement. Recognize and leverage the untapped array of assets as the building blocks that make the foundation of your team.

Diversity and Inclusion. In addition to our differing strengths and areas for growth, we also have differing perspectives. Part of making the team strong is including these differences in the way we view the world. Welcome and encourage constructive disagreement and ensure those who have the courage to Speak Up are included and not socially ostracized for their discourse. It is too easy to hold those who are different to standards that differ from those with whom we agree. Honor AND include diverse people and points of view.

Collaboration. As our working styles assessment shows, we also differ in how we engage our work. Knowing ourselves (including our own strengths, weaknesses, and biases) teaches us how best to work with one another. Give introverts time to reflect and extroverts time to discuss. Hold neutral space for those who need time to process, especially when big decisions or changes are on the table.

Continuous Learning. Remember that “half-empty” part? We all have room to grow. Continually seeking new lessons in our everyday world ensures we are always learning. Being open to learning requires us to be truthful about our shortcomings. As leaders, developing these areas in others not only adds to their individual skillsets but strengthens the trust and solidarity of the team.

Integrity and Accountability. Integrity is being true to ourselves. Accountability is being true to one another. Leadership requires a strong inner core where our sense of purpose and values lie. If everyone leads, then the inner cores of all team members must be aligned in terms of the purpose and values of the team. Only then can we achieve the integration we need to truly be a high-functioning team where everyone leads.

Tip #8: Everyone has the potential to add value to our teams. 

Schmitz, P. (2012). Everyone leads: Building leadership from the community up. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Divinity Beyond Monotheism

Polytheism has long been defined as a multiplicity of divinity, though modern beliefs range from the singular to the non-existent and everything in between. The early cosmotheologians of the Indo-Europeans were hard polytheists, believing in a set of distinct, individual deities as evidenced in the Hellenic Greek, Germanic, and Vedic religions. After Aristotle’s ponderings of an “Unmoveable Mover” in his Metaphysics, the idea of a creator God with a hierarchy of lesser beings underneath took root, making it easier to accept the notion of a monotheism, and several previously polytheistic peoples were converted to faiths such as Christianity. We see similar changes in the east involving the early Indians and Islam. Today among pagans, we still see a varied approach to the nature of divinity from the “All is One” seen in Universal Spiritualists societies to dualism (two opposite gendered deities) and aspecting (a mostly singular entity that can appear in any form) in Wiccan practices to the hard polytheism held by Druids and some eclectic pagans. Humanist pagans even argue for a non-existent or at least divinity-within/universalist perspective.

Pre-axial Hellenic, Germanic, and Vedic practices are all considered part of the Indo-European family of religions due to their similarities, one of which is the belief that there are multiple and separate beings known as deities, gods, or “Shining Ones.” Though the evidence for such a concept is not recorded verbatim in the recorded lore, this can be deduced from anthropological examination of their religious behaviors. For example, each deity had separate rituals, received their own offerings, and often had their own shrines and/or temples (Armstrong, 2006, p. 4). Their understanding of the cosmos was a reflection of their own world, meaning individual deities as plentiful as individual people in the middle realm.

Personally, while open to continued learning and growing in this area, I am a hard polytheist. I have “met” many beings, and after the work of the Court of Brighid with Rev. Ian Corrigan, I do not foresee any other way of viewing the world for me. Divinity is the collective of all the beings, as divinity lives within us, AND we are all individual beings.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Leadership Tip 7: Facing Fear

Leadership Expectation: Lead with Courage

The idea of “Transpersonal Leadership” was introduced in 2011 by John Knights, championing emotional intelligence as a counter to the traditional ego-based leadership styles. He poses the question, “What do I need to do differently myself to become a better leader?” During his research, he noted many people are promoted into positions of power (i.e. management positions) based on qualities that have nothing to do with their ability to lead. The “Invisible Elephant” in the room has always been that the way a leader treats others influences their performance more than any of the tasks they complete, greatly influencing the culture and overall success of the organization.

A key to moving away from managing people to leading people lies in incorporating emotional awareness into every aspect of our roles. One of the most influential emotions is fear. According to Knights (2018), “fear is the most important and destructive emotion for a leader to understand” (p. 60). Our lizard brain tells us we are at risk of life-threatening harm, but in the absence of predators, how does fear play into our reactions to the world around us? Of what are we afraid?

Fear, in short, is an ego-based response to our desire to stay the same. Fear arises for us when we are presented with a potential change. Change has become the new predator. We fear what we may have to let go, we fear what others will think of us, we fear judgement and criticism, and we even fear how we will feel about ourselves. As that last one is the easiest to hide to keep status quo everywhere else, we often choose courses of action aimed to mitigate the risk of change in our place among our coworkers at the expense of our relationship to Self.

Fear is an inhibitor, a barrier that holds us back from being our best selves, and the only way we can counter that fear is to find our courage. Courage is a virtue, one that Aristotle called the virtue that makes all other virtues possible. A lack of courage prevents us from acting with integrity, keeps us from obtaining wisdom, and inhibits our ability to maintain justice.  Leadership often means making decisions that others don’t like—mostly because of their own fear of change. Fear is an opportunity. Without fear, we do not have the opportunity to experience and cultivate our courage. As leaders, allowing others to see us face our fears and do it anyway will inspire them to find within themselves the ability to be courageous.

We must cultivate the courage of initiative and action, making the first attempts, pursuing new ideas, and stepping up. We must cultivate the courage of confidence in others, letting go of the need to control situations and outcomes and allowing others the space to achieve. And we must cultivate the courage of voice, raising difficult issues, providing tough feedback, and calling out the invisible elephants in the room. (Treasurer, n.d.)

Tip #7: Cultivate courage in yourself to cultivate courage in others in the face of fear.

Knights, J., Grant, D., & Young, G., Eds. (2018). Leading beyond the ego: How to become a transpersonal leader. New York: NY: Routledge.

Treasurer, B. (n.d.) Courage is the key to great leadership. Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Deity and Natural Disasters

“Magic” is simply the way humanity has always explained scientific phenomena we don’t yet understand, and what can be more magical than divine intervention (or retribution, depending upon whether we view the results as positive or negative)? This is an age-old question upon which the bulk of the pre-axial religions were formed. Early cosmotheological religions such as those practiced by the Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) were sacrifice-based systems operating in cyclical time. At the appointed times throughout the year, various sacrificial reenactments were performed in order to literally hold up the cosmos. Evidence of this still exists in the early Vedic works in the Rig Veda.

The scientific revolution has illustrated how much of what we previously held as evidence of divine intervention is fueled by naturally occurring and explainable phenomena. The more we have found the mechanisms to be reproduceable in our laboratories, the less we have allowed ourselves as a society to assume a divinity is involved. Once, a solar eclipse would send everyone scrambling to hide and find ways to appease whichever divinity was offended. Now, we all go outside and take photographs with special lenses on our lunch breaks at work.

In our modern sensibilities regarding religious beliefs, we have less evidence of divinity in the mundane in a tangible way. Prayers and offerings made on someone’s behalf can help soothe the wounded spirit, but they will not bring about direct change.  Instead, offering our prayers to those who are in need helps create a sense of hope and community in a time of helplessness and isolation. As a community, offering our prayers to others is a form of emotional support that creates the conditions for the disenfranchised to be empowered to take action. ADF’s role in larger-scale events such as fires, earthquakes, and floods, begins with statements of support and community. Formal intervention, in my opinion, must take the shape of humans finding the resources for those in need. Other churches pass the plate to take donations for their congregants in difficult situations and still call the collective pool of assistance divine aid. The spirit has moved the generosity of the congregation to come to the aid of one of their own. ADF must do the same, if we are to bask in the glow of community. Afterall, it is during trials and stressful times that our character as an organization will be shown to the outside world.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Goal of ADF Druidry

Among the world’s religions, the practice of Neopagan Druidry, particularly those of Ár nDraíocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship, Inc., is not widely known. Though the bulk of the world’s religions stemmed from practices similar to the practices in this new path, mainstream religious monotheistic faiths such as Christianity and Islam overshadow them all. Societal beliefs transitioned from the universal pre-axial tribal views in the differing tribal societies to become the religious practices in existence today. These practices are relevant to the modern polytheist in several ways, including relationship-building, examination of the self, and virtue ethics as a way of life.

The Mountain Ancestors motto, for me, speaks to what I believe is the ultimate goal of ADF: A liturgy of offerings, a practice of relationships. We are tied as one organization by our Core Order of ritual (shared orthopraxy) built on the foundation of reciprocity in feeling (orthopathy) and the exchange of gifts (sacrifice) with the divine. In other words, the ultimate goal of ADF is to make offerings in the right way with the right intent to the right beings.  This very basic function of our religious path stems from the pre-axial cosmotheology of the earliest Indo-European peoples, as mentioned above, tying us to a truly unbroken current. This current may have existed beneath all things without our knowledge for sometimes generations at a time, but we have tapped into the same energies our Ancestors did to fuel their spiritual endeavors. While our Ancestors shared some beliefs (the Gods were real, the cosmos required specific types of actions to maintain itself, and any misstep in performing these actions could potentially bring devastation to the entire tribe, to name a few), they had a well-defined system of what needed to be done for whom and when. Today, we have a common calendar of events and shared way for upholding these holy days that is consistent with that of our forebears.

Taking a deeper dive into how this manifests in the greater community reveals several places where ADF has room to grow into this vision of our ultimate goal. The most current debate lies in the different ways we treat with the Outdwellers. Some groves and individuals still view the Outdwellers as any spirits who purposes are “cross” to ours who also possess the desire to disrupt the work of our Druidry. Others are taking a different approach and using this space to bring healing to the native peoples of their lands, those who honored the spirits of place and the Earth Mother before our Ancestors settled here.

As an othropraxic faith, the idea of “right” is not one easily defined without creating an accidental belief system. The way forward for ADF as I see it relies on a coming to together of opposing “rights” to build understanding and practice the right relationships we seek with the divine with one another.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


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.