Today I find myself thinking about Discernment, and its younger siblings Differentiation, Distinction, and Definition.

Years ago, I found myself in the wilderness on a mountain-side with a dozen or so spiritual retreaters in a week-long woodland ceremony. It was the first morning, I think, and those present were to soon begin working toward various assigned tasks to prepare for the week to follow. I had spent my morning carrying, and/or chopping, firewood.

One of the hosts — I had no part in the leadership or facilitation of this — came to my camp site and asked me if I could use my knife to chop stake-points into the business-end of the trees being used for putting up a traditional structure. The exchange went something like this:

“Why not just use the axe?” I asked.

“Well, the axe isn’t very sharp.” she replied.

I kind of “….”ed at her a bit, and then said, “Well, that’s because it hasn’t been well cared for. But.. this job doesn’t need a particularly sharp axe. It’s the weight of the wedge — the head of the axe — that will do all the work, and the saplings won’t give very much resistance.”

“Well can you just use your knife? It will go faster.” she said, speedily, annoyance in her tone.

“No.” I said, flatly.

“Excuse me?” she asked, an edge of genuine shock in her entitled tone of authority, entirely unearned as it were.

“This knife is not even remotely intended for chopping.” I said.

“I though you had good knives!” she said.

“This knife is scaled with cocobolo wood and is designed for slaughter and field-dressing ritual, not… chopping.”

“So it isn’t sharp?” she asked testily.

“…what? No. It is TOO sharp, for starters. The edge is a razor for making effortless work of thick living tissue, muscle, sinew. The handle is not designed for high-impact implementation. It is an elegant knife for graceful, dignified DEATH, not chopping. That’s like trying to serve soup with a sugar spoon. Different tools for different jobs.”

“You’re just being difficult because you don’t want to work.” she snapped.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked, finally done with the exchange. I stood up and brushed the first-aid supplies off of my lap — I’d been handling wood all day and was covered with the scrapes and splinters of the task — and looked at her sternly. “You’re supposedly up here leading a dozen people in a community ceremony meant, in part, to establish and demonstrate ways of engaging with our world — and our community — with balanced measured natural respect. And yet you stand here in entitled disrespect toward me, my knife, my knife’s maker, the ones who taught my knife’s maker to make knives, and in truth to all blades that have ever come up from earth through hammered fire to human hand to assist in the doing of jobs, as tools and implements designed for purpose. You stand in disrespect of purpose itself, which is to say, you stand against intent, mind, and natural order. Not to mention consent and common sense.”

“…what did you–?” she stammered.

“Why not just use the axe?” I stated, tone shifting back to that which I had originally used on her approach, as if the exchange had not just happened.

“What did…” she trailed off, so I cut in:

“Why don’t you go get yourself some tea and sit in the shade. I’m going to go chop some more wood. With an axe. Which was designed for chopping wood. If you bring me a goat I’ll prepare dinner, too, with a knife designed for that… though I suspect you’ve gone off to town shopping for that at the local co-op.”

And so I set about using an axe — which wasn’t well sharpened, but was far from dulled and blunt — for its purpose, making short work of the labors, and teaching three or four well-seasoned city-people how to hold axes and hatches while doing close-quarters work like chopping stake poles. I explained that a dull axe is more dangerous than a sharp one, because the duller it gets, the less control the wielder has over what it does when it strikes the intended surface. (A dulled axe may “roll” or “glance” or otherwise divert on impact with wood, especially for angled stake-strike work.) I demonstrated an alternative, but more time consuming, method of preparing the pointy ends of the trees with a pair of yard-long clippers. I also drew a picture in the dirt of a knife shape which would be appropriate for chopping work. (I also explained what a machete was, and how to discern when it was or was not appropriate to use one.)

The point here: everything has some purpose and design. Could I have sharpened those trees with the knife? In a bind, yes. It would have damaged the knife, and — unless it was absolutely a survival necessity — rendered disrespect throughout the process. (I would sooner have used shaped stones found nearby to chop the stakes than a knife intended for slaughter.) Some edges are brought to a razor quality, for work which requires that. Others are left more broad and chiseled — still sharp enough to shave, but heavier duty over-all — for more demanding and stressful work.

So many of us go through our lives proverbially attempting to chop firewood with a pocket-knife meant for little more than twine, and wonder why our hands hurt or our knuckles bleed or, indeed, our knives break to pieces. This isn’t really our fault. Our world — or rather, our society, really — teaches us to behave this way. It teaches us not to draw distinctions and not to understand definitions, but to make sure to use popular language like “discernment” in order to demonstrate how savvy we are to those who might be watching, as we go about chopping firewood with a pocket knife.

A lot of us are taught that, contrary to the wisdom of a certain small green resident of a swampy planet in the Outer Rim Territories, it is enough to “try our best”. That in “trying our best” we will be rewarded, congratulated, praised, trophied and bejeweled. Our society so emphatically teaches this that it fails to teach anything else, such as what it might look like to actually “try” a given thing.

For example, if a person were to be told to “go and sharpen this box of pencils” and an hour later found crying in the parking lot with broken number-twos all around them, marks in the pavement clearly showing how they’d set about the undertaking of this task, it would not really be fair to say that they had “tried”. Certainly it had been a trying experience — see what I did there? — and probably a testament to how much they really really really wanted to complete the task assigned. But sharpening pencils on pavement isn’t actually possible. So this was not a “failed attempt”, it was just a bloody failure, and a sad scene at that. Sharpening pencils can be done in a number of ways, none of which involve pavement. Razors, knives, manual and electric and hand-held and wall-mounted sharpeners are all valid options.

Our society has created a culture in which there is no distinction made between “really really really wanting to do something” and actually knowing enough to give it a real try. It has failed to adequately reinforce the fact that knowledge, training, guidance, are all good things. This way we can avoid breaking pencils on the surface of the parking lot and breaking slaughter knives on the surface of a fucking tree.

Distinctions are useful for navigating between multiple things, which are differentiated from one another sometimes in clear bold ways, and other times with subtle nuances. Definitions — of which a given idea may have more than one! — are useful for establishing in what way things are different from one another, and therefore how they stand as distinct (at least within a given context). The process I have just described? That’s an example of what discernment looks like.

Discernment is not merely “good idea, bad idea” for adults. It is not something to be spoken dutifully in flowing robes by a wizened elder when discussing magic or guru selection or the pursuit of enlightenment. It is far more significant in its purposeful application to more foundational things — like sharpening pencils and stake-points for shelters — in order to understand, you know, critically and objectively how things work.

Wanting so hard to do a thing that you’re willing to subject yourself to a series of “trying ordeals” and tribulations is not the same as “trying” to achieve them. The first meaning of the word used is easier, as it requires only struggle and hardship and is equally valid with or without successful achievement of that which you wanted so hard to do; failure is acceptable here. The second meaning — by which we mean actually attempting a thing with an informed aim for successful completion — is more challenging, as it requires that a person know what a completed task might look like, know at least some of the steps likely to bring them to that state, and what tools, accessories or skills might be called upon in the doing. The pursuit of the second meaning — “try” as in meaningfully undertake an attempt — may actually include the experience of the first meaning — “try” as in struggle — because that’s life, and kiddies, sometimes life is hard.

It is always easier to have a trying struggle than it is to try. But one of these gets you somewhere. The other leaves you with a broken knife and a box of splintered number-twos.

And who the fuck wants a box of broken pencils?

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THRAKING MANY GODS WEST

Posted: June 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

I have started an IndieGoGo fund-raiser to help with the costs of attending MANY GODS WEST in Olympia, WA next month, where I will be presenting on Regional Cultus (drawing primarily from a rather length article of mine which appears in the latest volume of Walking the Worlds Polytheist Journal). The thing is, I’ve had a recent and sudden interstate move, and unforeseen household medical expenses, which have me in a position of financial opposition in actually getting there (and being able to eat, when I do).

My fundraising goal is to cover travel and eating expenses, and I plan on sleeping in a staff freight elevator or at the bench by the smoking area outside, because that’s how shit gets done. In the event that there is any excess left over at the end, it will be donated immediately to the operational costs of the newly rebuilt POLYTHEIST.COM which just launched its new design this week!

Please feel free to share, and of course contribute if you can, to this! In addition to my lecture, I will be meeting with various-and-sundry from the community, and likely important conversations (on topics like community leadership, regional gatherings, ritual conferences and the like) so this is a big deal. Also, all contributors are invited to buy me a drink and/or a cigar in Olympia.

I will be autographing other people’s books with personalized messages and/or forged signatures in exchange for alcohol and meat while in attendance, and in general, looking forward to spending time with (and meeting) some of the Polytheist community I only ever get to engage with through a computer screen.

Thanks for your support!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/send-the-thracian-to-many-gods-west/

Wee! This morning saw the launch of the newly rebuilt Polytheist.com, which has been a long-time in the works. The entire site has been rebuilt with a new back-end platform, and a new host and database service provider has been selected.

In addition, this week is full of fun announcements, including this one from this morning:

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

As a new feature with the site, four times a year — Solstices and Equinoxes — Polytheist.com will launch an open call for submissions from our communities. What we are looking for is proposals for articles or essays on subjects, topics, perspectives or challenges related to living and practicing Polytheist religions and spiritual traditions today. These will be reviewed and the selected proposals will have a deadline worked out with the author, for inclusion in our Featured Voices track on the site (which will gain increasing focus and centrality on the site).

There is room for some Featured Voices guest writers to shift over into a regular column track, but to start, one-off articles is the way to go. The intent here is to break out of the echo-chamber that sometimes takes hold with online media in niche communities: it’s sort of like open-mic night, except still regulated in a minimal way behind the scenes to ensure continuity of quality in the content put forth. Please message our Facebook Page for instructions on how to submit a proposal!

Many blessings and much respect to all in our communities.

Please contact us on Facebook or email (polytheist.com at gmail dot com) for instructions on how to submit an article proposal!

Stay tuned tomorrow for another announcement at the site, regarding an upcoming featured column!

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For those of you in the Facebook world, who may have noticed my absence this week? I was “name reported” to FB, suspiciously near in timing to taking a stand in a discussion on the subject of New Atheism, which I have spoken and written about extensively in the past. In short, I was advocating — as I always do, being the good social justice warrior that I am — for culturally progressive and mature understandings of different groups of people still having value and rights to respect and dignity and freedom, even if another person disagrees with them.

This led to one particularly astute participant comparing minority religions to cancer cells and suggesting that they needed to be cured. In the name of science, rational thought, and, well, New Atheism.

Which is, of course, my point: many of these people are closeted supremacists who haven’t, as one gentler Pagan in the discussion phrased it, “had time to work it through, yet”. Meaning that they need “time” to arrive at the realization that their stances and positions are identical in mechanics to the eugenics-inspired activities of the Third Reich. (The cancer analogy followed a fruitless ramble about baskets of rotten apples and no time to sort the good from the bad, so they all needed to be treated with “equal” regard; except that this equality didn’t call for equal respect but instead equal rejection.) Apparently these rational New Atheists “need time” to “work through” what cultural supremacy is, and what the language of erasure and eradication (read: cultural genocide, culture-and-thought policing, extermination) sound and look like at the end of the day.

Anyway, for having the audacity to call it out, some very sophisticated and obviously terribly rational fellow “reported my name” to Facebook. Because, yeah, that’s and equation of action that makes completely logical sense. Start another fucking name-report-war. Way to go, idiots.

So, anyway, I’ve been silent on this because I don’t want my supporters to go off  name reporting all of these supremacist New Atheists, the way that happened with another set of communities some months ago. Denying somebody their own name is an act of unforgivable dishonor, disgrace, and degradation of human rights.

This kind of action is done in detainment scenarios as an act of psychological warfare. Now, I know that statement gets used a lot in this discussion, and people cite Guantanamo Bay or the Stanford Prison Experiment to justify the comparison, but these grandiose suggestions get writtn off by nearly everyone not making them, because they can’t see a parallel between “reporting a name on Facebook” and “illegal detaining somebody and stripping them of their name”.

So, here’s the thing:

I have been illegally detained and stripped of my name, for a period of years, and tortured through both physical and psychological means. (Please respect my privacy on this, if you do not already know this part of my history, and do not pry for more information than that.) I suffer PTSD as a result of these, and related/intersecting life circumstances. As such I feel uniquely qualified to state the following:

Having my name reported and “stolen” through this process? It feels identical to what was done to me in those darker times, at the psychological and emotional level. It feels identical because it is in actuality identical: helpless against an overwhelming structure I am stripped of my identity — my name, which is real and authentic and used in day to day life — for the specific purposes of communicating to me just how powerless I can be rendered with such minimal effort by an oppressor. That is what happens when somebody reports another’s name on Facebook: they are showing that person, for the purposes of harm, an experience of powerlessness. Accusations of cowardice aside, this is an act of psychological torture by definition.

And it feels identical. Even though this is just Facebook, it doesn’t “feel” like something trivial. It feels, and is experienced, as a literal stripping of identity and name… the same way that it did while I was enduring literal torture and detainment. My “review” process with Facebook’s operations division, to verify that this is my real and authentic name — which it is — even assigns me a “number”. You know what happens in detainees? They are assigned numbers, to strip them of their identity, and reenforce their removal from human consideration. So, yeah, this? This feels like that.

Thankfully I prepared myself for this eventuality last September when the first rounds of “name reporting” began on Facebook, and assembled a docket of legitimate identity verifying documentation as per Facebook’s name and identity form policies, familiarized myself with their protocols and process, and was neither shocked nor surprised when this happened. I am four days into the review process, and I anticipate another four-to-ten days before resolution happens.

However, my preparation does not diminish the psychological impact of being stripped of my name. Of being stripped of my identity. By somebody who I cannot see or touch.

And so I say: do not do this to anyone, no matter who they are, or what they have done. If you have issues with somebody, sack up and settle it like an adult: with fists, tooth, claw or law. Torture of this kind? This is the tool of the small, the weak, the literally powerless, who are seeking through manipulative guile to feel as though they have power by projecting their own experience of smallness onto somebody else.

Suffice it to say, I am not powerless. (In fact, these four days off from Facebook have allowed me to continue packing my house for my upcoming move with less distraction, and work on an upcoming article for publication, as well as fine-tune some language in a Human Rights document.) That said? I still have PTSD, which is a permanent synaptic and neuro-chemical rewiring of my brain, and when it flares — as it presently is — I am crushed by it. Sometimes for days at a time, sometimes for fleeting waves of paralysis and flashback and muscle-locking white-knuckled count-to-ten-and-breathe-and-pray. But this is merely the experience of powerlessness, not the reality of it.

To those who have reached out in panic, concern, or confusion, through email, phone and text: thank you. I am alive, I am relatively unscathed, and I’ll be back before too long. In the meantime, you can continue to reach me by those means, or comment here.

The Ancients

Posted: May 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

Originally posted here:

The statement that “we are not the ancients” is one that gets brought up a LOT [by detractors to the Polytheist Movement]. It has been stated to me a dozen [times]. This statement is used to [suggest] that somehow Polytheists do not know this, and it is used to belittle, satirize, and literally describe our religions as “devolved”. Nobody in Polytheism believes that “we are the ancients”; we are not advocating for enslaving our enemies or neighbors, warring with other nations, dismembering those who dishonor us, or blinding those who infringe upon our hospitality. We are, however, advocating for lived understandings of things like honor and hospitality, which include thousands of years of developed philosophies around ethical and moral conduct, from around the world. We are also using iPads, smart-phones, writing scholarly books, discussing the environment and our modern impact upon it, engaging in civil rights activism and education, sponsoring and fund-raising for indigenous rights and freedom-of-religion issues (not just our own, mind you!).

The branch of Paganism which seems so trigger-happy in attacking us in this way, using this kind of language, also seems to enjoy speaking from a kind of “post-culture” standpoint, where people who still have a cultural identity just haven’t evolved yet, and people who are actively trying to reclaim, restore, or rebuild a culture are participating in harmful “devolutions”. This is the living definition of ethnocentricism and dominant-culture privilege and entitlement: it has no place in our communities or in interfaith, cross-cultural dialog. Further, statements are often made by, or draw language from, fields of academic study which suggest that only “old and ongoing” cultures or religions are “real”, and that anyone else is effectively just pretending… and yet, to my knowledge the field of anthropology is only about a century old, and yet cultures and cultural movements have developed and come to life in lived authenticity throughout time for a great deal longer than that. Apparently humans don’t need academic permission to exist a certain way; it is not the purpose of academic fields of anthropology (or theology, or religious studies) to define what a person who group can or cannot do, but rather to study and understand those things that are done. The key word there is “understand”.

As Polytheists we do not think that “we are the ancients”. We are modern people who are Polytheists, and we belong to many cultural backgrounds, with many religious backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and ethnic backgrounds. We honor our ancestors, and the ancestors of others. That includes ancestors who came up with and refined systems of justice, and education. Which is why some of us are lawyers, and others are police officers, and other are soldiers serving their country. We represent demographics from across all levels of the political spectrum, from so far left they fell off the edge to so far right they looped back around again into an awkward leftist camp, and aren’t sure what to do with themselves. We have college professors and college students, white people and people of color, men and women of cisgender identity and a gauntlet of amazing people from all over the gender spectrum, all over the sexual-preference spectrum, all over the global national and cultural identity spectrum. Some of our priests have sat at summits or participated in engagements with the United Nations on issues of world religion and indigenous rights. We are apparently not just a bunch of play-actors after all, eh?

The purpose of differentiating things is to provide a measured placement for respect of the different needs that different things have. The reason, for example, that a parent with four children does not equate all of those children as one child is that each of those children requires their own clothes, food selections, nutritional considerations based on their own age and health particulars, and so forth. See? Differentiations between things allow for specific considerations and the establishment, collectively, of methodologies to serve the actual specific needs of those things, without upsetting or upending the structures of other things to whom those needs are not relevant. If all the children were treated the same, and one of them was diabetic, either the other three would be forced to receive unnecessary-for-them interventions or the other would suffer for lack of their own medical needs being met.

When a minority group — say, a religious group — is seeking differentiation from another group (whether another larger category of spiritual considerations, or a social force perhaps affiliated with rights and justice work), it is best to understand this not as a rejection of that group but instead as an expression of mutual and shared respect for the individual needs of each, and a desire to see those needs met and satisfied in an efficient manner which honors each respective identity or state. Once these distinctions are honored, differentiated identity groups can work together or toward mutually beneficial (or at least non-hostile or competitive) ends, as their efforts can be put into satisfying needs rather than fighting over resources inaccurately perceived as finite and scarce.

Differentiations are cool.

Religious Regard

Posted: May 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

Just a mid-week quickie:

Polytheists do not merely acknowledge the reality of many gods, but further, we hold them in religious regard. As an Evangelical Christian author recently pointed out in an article somewhere less awesome than here, it is entirely possible to view the gods as real, and also not worship them, value them, or respect them in any way. He explained that “the polytheists are right: those gods are real”, but went on to say that they were wicked vile and inferior beings who represented more or less the worst of the world. It is therefore not enough to affirm the existence of the gods, but to hold them in religious regard: as Polytheists we worship the many gods, and hold them in pious praise. Whether we do this in the structure of informal household cultus or more formally within a structured tradition or regional cultus, it is our devotional religious regard for the many gods which defines us in this way.