Dec 292012
 

This bulk of this essay was curmudgeonly crafted on December 2, 2002 with some current updates added.

 

I have sometimes been described as “brutally honest.”

This could be considered bad.

I would agree that this would be bad, if I were to use the truth to intentionally hurt people in certain situations. For example, if someone were to give me a gift that I didn’t like, I wouldn’t go out of my way to tell them how much I hated it or how terrible it was. It is the thought that counts, and I would try to make the best of the situation. However, I also wouldn’t go on and on making up lies about it either — about how wonderful and perfect it was, if it wasn’t true. One distinction I make about “the truth” is whether or not it would make a difference to tell it and the harm or help that it might bring. I have less trouble pointing things out to folks if it’s something that they can do about it in that moment. You know – the spinach between the teeth, the toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe… But if it is something that the person can’t fix in the moment – like a stain or tear or whatever, then unless they are showing off bits they don’t want to be sharing, I don’t say anything. There isn’t any point in making them feel bad or self-conscious about things.

So, I guess that I’m not brutally honest all of the time.

One place in life, though, where I have had to struggle, is this idea of compassion. I like to think that I am a compassionate person, and I think that I have gone out of my way to help those who have need. Folks who know me well, know that I subscribe to the notion that sometimes “Shit happens,” and thus people occasionally need help in dealing with what life deals them. I have always felt that it is part of who I am and of my religious beliefs — to help people less fortunate than myself.

But what happens when the misfortune to the person is a direct result of their own whims, wishes and desires? What if the bad things that are happening to them are a direct result of the choices that they have made? Where does my compassion lead me to in these instances?

I don’t know.

If you came on here looking for an answer to this one, I don’t know that I have it for you. For me, it always seems to come down to rationalization and the individual case – and I don’t know that that is necessarily a good thing, but that is all that I have at this time. And lest this whole discussion seem too intellectually “out there” I will use at least one specific example. You will probably disagree with some of my choices, but then again, I would be disagreeing with some of yours. So, let’s see how this plays out….and it is amazing how much guilt can play (unwittingly) into these choices if you really think about it….

It’s easy to act in a compassionate manner if a situation is caused by something utterly random or not caused at all by the person it is affecting. People who are hit by devastating weather conditions, an unexpected illness, a random accident. But unfortunately, that is not always the case.

I know a number of people who choose not to be regularly employed by other people (or necessarily self-employed, for that matter). For the most part these people either make their living off of their spirituality by selling goods and classes, or they simply don’t want to be bothered to be tied down by having a job where they have to be responsible to someone other than themselves. I can respect the fact that these folks have the right to make this decision. But there are consequences to this. What happens if they become sick and have no health care? What happens if their car breaks down? What happens if they happen to not find enough part-time, makeshift work to keep them fed in a particular season? What happens if they just cycle through money problems on a regular basis?

Now, let me preface this here…in this example all of these people to whom I am referring have employable skills and could hold down a full-time, good-paying job if they chose to. But they have decided that they didn’t want the bother, wanting the “freedom” instead. At what point am I obligated to support them as a result of my compassion? At what point are they obligated to make different choices so that others don’t have to take up their burden?

I guess I get a bit resentful. Alright, a lot resentful. I have what I have because I work a full-time job. I don’t have the time to do everything that I would like to do. I am earning retirement, disability, and have insurance. I have traded off a so-called life of “freedom” for the hope of some type of other security. I have done what I could to ensure that if something catastrophic happened to me or my family, we have done everything that we could to be self-sufficient.

Maybe that’s the crux of the whole thing. Self-sufficiency comes with certain amount of self-sacrifice. I don’t get to do everything that I want to do whenever I want to do it. I feel that these other folks make choices that are very selfish. They choose to do what they want, and then expect if something bad happens, that the rest of us are supposed to come in and cover their butts. But if I didn’t work as hard as I did, I wouldn’t have anything to help them with! Funny, how the reverse isn’t true. Those who choose to do what they want, also don’t have the resources to help others when there is a crisis. Often have I heard them fall back on, “Well, that’s sad, but I don’t have a job.” Or “We’re just getting by, I don’t have any extra to help.” Now isn’t that the ironic piece? Many of these folks expect help on a regular basis, but use the consequences of their choices to not reciprocate.

I know that this sounds bitter, and perhaps even selfish on my part. The classic act of compassion is to give without thought to oneself. Isn’t that the way that we have been taught? Am I supposed to judge whether or not a person deserves my compassion? So this begs the question on whether or not compassion is always deserving in all cases, and I have come up with the personal answer of “No.” We were given brains and I believe that we were meant to use them. I can differentiate between a person laid-off of a job and a person who chooses not to have one. I can give freely to help meet the needs of children in a poor home who need holiday presents despite the fact that their parents may have made terrible choices, because it’s not the children’s fault. I can make a difference in the life of women in the local battered women’s shelter who need supplies in order to help change her life situation. I can tell the difference in the needs of a family who are struggling with hospital bills because their child/father/mother has cancer and the person in the hospital with lung cancer because they chose to smoke 3 packs a day even when they knew it was bad for them.

I can’t save everyone. I have to make choices about where I put my resources and just who and what I support. Everyone makes these choices. And just because someone is a Pagan doesn’t mean that they automatically go to the top of my list. And although it should be my choice about how I support somebody in a time of crisis, it is interesting how I’ve been judged by others, particularly within the Pagan community, if I don’t give as much as people think I should – given the fact that I have a full-time job. It is an interesting twist in the comparative ethics of compassionate giving!

I have always believed that if you want something to happen, you better choose the actions that will have the consequences that you want, because it ain’t gonna happen any other way.

To those that have made poor choices and are living with the consequences of those choices, I don’t know what to say. Far from being the cold-hearted person that I may seem here, I have, believe it or not, actually supported some of these people. But what I have found, is that they have not changed in the slightest as they don’t learn any lessons from it! Once the current crisis is over, they go on making the same choices, bringing everyone, eventually back to the same place. It is interesting that these folks think that being compassionate is to give without expectations – regardless of the fact that they expect to be bailed out on a somewhat regular basis! In the face of this response, I can only believe that my supporting them is dysfunctional, codependent, ultimately not helpful and downright unhealthy!

So now I make choices, some different than I used to, and I have to live with the consequences of those choices. I will not fake things to make everthing seem wonderful. I will not spend all of my time stroking egos or pretending to be best friends with someone I hardly know. I now refuse to bail people out of the natural consequences of their life choices, even if it is personally painful for me.

If I seem too brutally honest, I guess then, that I too, will have to live with that. And I can too, since being brutally honest in the eyes of some folks simply means that I’m not a flaky, superficial person.

The most important thing to me is living a life of compassion — but not one of blind compassion. Can I live with the consequences? Only time will tell.

 Posted by at 3:44 pm
Dec 112011
 

Well, it has been quite some time since my last rant and although it is the holiday season of many religions, I do have to get something off my chest – so to speak.

Why the heck do I keep getting greetings from Pagans/Witches which say Merry Christmas???

Gee, when those religious righters put up signs saying “Keep the Christ in Christmas” they have a point. Although Christmas has roots in Paganism, as does every other religion, when a Pagan says to me “Merry Christmas” I really don’t know how to react. It’s one thing to hear it in the stores, from co-workers and Christian family members, and from folks who just assume that everyone is Christian, but when I get a message or am greeted by Pagans who say this to me, I am pretty astounded at the lack of thought that goes with uttering what has become a common catch phrase.

Bah, Humbug!

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment. Certainly, when confronted with such a greeting from well-meaning folks, I usually respond with a “Happy Holidays to you too” – although there are times when I will sneak in a “Happy Solstice” – and receive puzzled stares in return. What to do, though, about Pagan Merry Christmas’s I haven’t quite decided – although my first reaction of wanting to smack them upside the head has been firmly suppressed on many an occasion.

I think my favorite greeting this season came from a novice witch who wanted guidance. She sent us an electronic greeting card complete with the title “Merry Christmas” with a Christian picture AND a Christian song attached. I think she really needs to do a lot more basic work before she can make a decision about this path. But it’s not just newbies who do this, but seasoned veterans as well. Have we become so conditioned by the dominant culture, that we unthinkingly mouth these phrases by rote? What does it say about our being witches – connected and observing of our path? If witches/Wiccans/Pagans greet each other with “Merry Christmas” with this little thought, then the religious righters might have cause to be worried about the submergence of their holiday into the consumeristic mecca that it has become. And although I don’t believe that “Jesus is the reason for the season” (they need to take a simple astronomy course here), I do believe that this can become a time when ALL religions can come together to celebrate peace and joy and giving and hope.

So let’s think about the meaning of this season. We celebrate the returning sun, the growing light, rebirth and reflection. Greet the dawn with thanks for the returning warmth. And try greeting your Pagan friends with something more in line with your beliefs. Believe me, changing this takes thought and effort.

Wow – a little Yule magick in the making.

 

This essay was lovingly crafted on December 24, 2001.

 Posted by at 2:14 pm
Apr 032011
 

What is leadership? Is leadership about having power? Is it about being the center of attention? Is it about authority? For some people it is all of these and more. But in my opinion, leadership is about taking responsibility. This is a hard lesson for some folks to learn – so hard, in fact, that they never learn it. Choices come from taking responsibility and that is the real power – being able to make your own choices. But the ironic twist is this - being responsible also places boundaries on those choices, because your choices have to represent the good for all, not just what you personally want.

The stereotypical HPS (high priestess) is incredibly psychic, she knows what is going on in everyone’s head, she says jump and everyone does. She is the ultimate authority, never wrong, never with normal human foibles. She is all-wise, all-powerful, at the center of the circle. She directs the power of the circle, because each person raises it and hands it over to her. Many folks who are interested in forming a coven, think that by becoming the high priestess that they will somehow become transformed into this person. (Or if they are incredibly self-deluded they think that they already ARE this person.) They like being the end-all, be-all of their witchy universe. In order to maintain this fiction, a couple of things can happen. I should note that this is applicable to males too. They enjoy playing the high priest, and in the most extreme cases, act as though the high priestess role is secondary or unnecessary. I will continue to write this in the feminine. Just be aware that you could easily substitute HP (high priest) and he/him for the HPS, she/her.

Beware of these Leaders & Structure Types!

Lots o’ Newbies
If you have a lot of people new to the craft, then they generally come in with this preconception of the HPS. The HPS can keep some of her older members by putting them in higher positions or making them her trusted advisors. Basically she needs to get folks to buy into that structure (with her at the top) and she does that by giving them their own positions to protect. This structure can actually last for a while, especially if it is in an area with a very transitory population (i.e. college towns). It usually breaks down when 1) her trusted advisors start challenging her because they want to be at the top or 2) there aren’t enough positions for the newbies to transition into. This structure depends a lot on very delicate balances of power at the top. This balance can turn into a full-fledged struggle for power.

The Weaker the Better?
An HPS can maintain her fiction if she only gathers weak people around her – people who want to be told what to do, how to do it, etc. They aren’t confident in their own abilities and the HPS actively works at keeping them in that space. With lots of weak members, usually the HPS spends a great deal of time and energy in manipulation. What makes these members weak is that they will abdicate all of their power and responsibility to the leaders. The payoff for the HPS? She has created a coven that actually feeds off of her energy!

Form, collapse, form again, ad infinitum…
Some never get it. They form a group. The group collapses. They blame the former members of the group. They try to form a new group. The new group collapses. They blame the latest members. They continue this cycle over and over again. Usually between the group cycles they go through the “I am a proud solitary” thing. This is not to say that being a solitary is not a fulfilling practice, because it is. But they keep coming back to the coven/group formation stage. They desperately need to be at the center of things, thus they keep trying to form a coven to meet their own personal needs. The members in the group eventually come to the realization that the group isn’t there for everyone, it is there for the leaders so they can be leaders. A note here – very often these folks will cycle through different traditions with each group formation. There aren’t enough witches, so they try Asatru or druidism or OTO or CAW or (fill in the blank).

 

What to Do?

In all of the above instances, there is usually a great deal of psychic vampirism or energy sucking. The leader needs the group because it feeds them in some way. Sometimes it is energy, sometimes it is other things. Look, having a group shouldn’t be a substitute for the missing pieces of yourself. That is something that you need to work on to be a whole, balanced person. People who use groups to avoid working on their weaknesses are hurting themselves and their coven mates.

What is true for everyone else in the coven is the same for the HPS. She should be working on her own issues. Sometimes there is a backlash from the people in her own group who have put her on the pedestal. The pedestal can be quite high and the fall can be quite devastating. And fall the high priestess must, because she is just a human being. Problems can eventually arise when the newer members of the coven come to find out that she isn’t – can’t – fulfill the role of the stereotypical HPS. They become hypercritical because she isn’t perfect – the Goddess incarnate. In some cases the newbie, who always thought that being a high priestess was forever out of reach (because they had very outlandish ideas about what a HPS actually is) then becomes convinced that they are better suited to the job and that they should be the HPS. This is an interesting reversal. The new member does not recognize all of the other skills that come into play when leading a group. Power within and power over are really different things. Sometimes people have trouble distinguishing the differences. They see power over as a manifestation of good leadership and power within as being weak when the opposite is true.

In our group, every member has the right to veto anything. This is truly shared power. Because I do not act as the stereotypical HPS, many people have thought that I am weak, and that the group was just waiting around for them to personally step in and be the leaders. I would laugh if it weren’t so distressing. These folks see the group as ripe for the picking and an easy way to get their own power needs met. They are usually frustrated when they realize that they won’t get their own way.

If you are thinking about becoming the leader of a group, you need to be prepared for what will come at you. Being publicly known can be even worse. It can arouse jealousy and then the rumors start flying. Many years ago, a couple of people started rumors about how terrible of a high priestess I was. They added (big surprise) that they could do much better. They also said I didn’t have any power, couldn’t do effective magick, etc. But then, the same people started rumors that I was causing all sorts of bad stuff to happen – some of it unimaginably bad. They even credited me with causing things to happen that I didn’t even know about until years later. Some of these accusations were very hurtful and were by people that I had really trusted and thought of as close friends. Personally, working through the hurtful feelings and the subsequent damage took a lot of time.

In spite of the hurt I felt, I also thought this was pretty amazing. On one hand I am weak and worthless, and on the other, I can affect all of these lives with my magick!

People can be irrational and personally vindictive. There really isn’t much you can do except to continue to be the person that you are. The detractors eventually run out of steam and hopefully, an audience. Usually they are into some sort of power trip and if they don’t get their satisfaction from you, they will turn their attentions elsewhere. Unfortunately there really are some bad groups out there. But what I am trying to say is that gossip won’t always tell you the truth. Meet folks. Listen to your intuition. Decide for yourself.

 

Why Bother At All?

With all of this said, you might wonder why someone would even be a HP/S. I guess I would have to say it depends on where your gifts are. Some people are just naturally good at handling leadership roles and developing/running rituals. I used to think that anyone with the right training could handle the ritual end of things. I don’t believe that anymore. I have seen rituals from many, many different people – from complete beginners to experienced, trained ministers and just about everything in-between. I have found that more training does not necessarily mean better ritual. Don’t get me wrong, I think that people can always improve these skills. But it does seem that some folks have a natural knack for it and others don’t. Creating a ritual is not simply about writing down some words and assigning some parts. (Alas, this is another essay!) Also, dealing with group dynamics is part of the skills necessary for facilitating a group. Being able to teach is very important too. In Janet and Stewart Farrar’s book, A Witches’ Bible they state that, “She [the high priestess] is expected to be a combination of teacher, psychiatrist, nurse, mother-confessor, referee, scapegoat and reference librarian.” When I read this description I smiled, because of how close to the truth it is. It doesn’t mean, though, that a HPS can do all of these equally well, just that she has to do it at one time or another, and hopefully with some success.

Mar 242011
 

Even as I write the title, I cringe a bit. Who am I to be calling myself a priestess, let along a high priestess? It sounds so pretentious that I think of going back and renaming this post. But it does fit. The path that I have chosen to walk for the last 20+ years has been one of the high priestess. If I were of a Christian denomination, I guess I would say that I had a “calling” to become a minister – to serve a faith community in whatever manner was appropriate. But we Pagans, witches, and Wiccans generally shun the Christian lingo in favor of our own. High priestess. Just what does that mean to me?

I never started out thinking that I wanted to be a high priestess. My first calling was that of the witch. I was fascinated with the subjects of magick and witchcraft. These interests started early in my life. In fact, most people that I know who are called to this path can go back to third or fourth grade and start pinpointing when they first discovered mythology and magic. It was the same for me. I really didn’t get the religion part of it though. That came much later. But as a kid, I did spells and divination. It was something that I took pretty seriously. Why wouldn’t I? It worked after all!

It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I started finding out more information about “the Craft.” I ran across Spiral Dance by Starhawk in 1986 and was immediate entranced with its connections to Goddess worship. Instantly, I found the missing pieces of my earlier practice and found a loving, joyous and worshipful religious practice that I could follow.

Since most of us start as solitaires, I am guessing that most of you can relate to the struggle of the next three years. Spiral Dance, while containing great exercises, primarily centers around group practice. My steps were tentative and uncertain as a lone witch. It was Scott Cunningham’s new book, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner that really gave me the courage to start practicing Wicca as a specific religious tradition. (Luckily, there was a New Age/Pagan bookstore close to my in-laws hometown. My original, but sadly battered, doggie-gnawed copy was actually signed by Cunningham when he did the promotional tour for it.) I did a self-dedication rite and from there, it seemed as though the Goddess and God truly had heard my need for a greater community of people with which to share my experiences. Through a series of increasingly bizarre coincidences (?), I found myself connected to the local Pagan community. In early 1990, it was a fairly small group of folks – small when compared to the number of Pagans around Athens today. The local Pagan Sabbat circle was pretty much by invitation only.

It was in the autumn of 1990 that the unofficial organizer of the local Pagan circle along with my husband and myself started the study group that would eventually (and with many trials) become the Coven of Celestial Tides. Pretty much from the beginning I acted as the group’s high priestess. I cringe now to think of all of the mistakes that I made. It was not just a trial by fire, but of water, earth and air too. And spirit. Let’s not forget spirit. I had much to learn.

For me, every witch is truly their own priest or priestess. No one needs another to mediate between one and one’s deity. Still, when people get together, there is a need for someone to play ritual “traffic cop.” In the beginning, that was pretty much the role that I played. I enjoy crafting and running rituals. But over time, more was required. The call became deeper and more meaningful. It became about helping people grow spiritually. It became about creating community. It became about sharing concerns and joys and laughter and tears. Presiding over a handfasting ceremony or a baby blessing (Wiccaning) was a joy. And it is a great honor to be asked to share in people’s lives in this way. When my best friend’s son died in a tragic car crash, I underwent a personal rite of passage in aiding the family in coping with his death. It was a terrifying privilege to minister to the family and community – being there through the calling hours and running the memorial service.

As I continued to grow in my role as a priestess/minister, I found a personal connection to the goddess Hekate.  I spent a night in vigil to honor Her and to dedicate myself as a priestess to Her. And now as the winter nights turn to springtime’s dawn, I see Her in the shadow of the moon and hear Her voice in my heart.

There still isn’t an end to this story – but that is just the point. The path of the high priestess – nay, of any priest or priestess – is about the journey. Mine has brought me to this place and time – and I hope that I am worthy to be called in service to this community. My education continues as I share in a teacher/student/mentor/learner relationship with this glorious planet, the Goddesses and Gods, our animal kin, the bounteous plant life and the many beautiful people of our community.

May you find such beauty on the path you walk.