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. https://www.eonetwork.org/octane-magazine/special-features/courageisthekeytogreatleadership

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

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.