Tuesday, May 13, 2008


A really interesting, thoughtful, unique man named Lance recently posted to the AODA online message board about "ambivalence"--his struggle to come to terms with contemporary diversity and tolerance of us paganish people, when only a few decades ago he had to battle against isolation and alienation to construct a sense of "specialness" and self that was integrated with his love of nature. He ended his post by asking if any of the older AODA members remember this struggle themselves, and share in his ambivalence about "how to shed my Bearskins and become human again."

Without thinking, I shot off a response. Perhaps it will go a little ways in explaining my recent absence from the online community. It seems my bitterness always rears its calloused head when spring is at its peak. The bitter and the sweet, dear readers, the bitter and the sweet.


Remember it!? I'm struggling through it now. My childhood was, in many ways, the complete opposite of yours: I was a weirdo among weirdos, I had companions and other nature-loving and art-loving geeks to turn to, I had fellow conspirators (con-spirators)... we made up clubs and pursued hare-brained schemes (newsletters, rock bands, art shows, homemade movies). It was wonderful.

Now that I'm an adult, I find myself utterly isolated from all such individuals except through this virtual world of message boards and email. Most of the time I can't even bring myself to keep up with the voluminous postings of this group (not to mention a few others I follow) because I know that once I get sucked in, I'll forget to leave my computer for hours at a time, and in the end I'll still feel dissatisfied and lonely. Where are all of those people I knew as a child? I know full well where they are: they're all here, online! The only people in the woods are joggers and dog-walkers; the only people in coffee shops are businessmen, and students plugged into the WiFi. For all I know, those very same businessmen, students, joggers and dog-walkers go home each night, light a candle to 'Bridget' and post to their tantalizingly counterculture blog--but I'm beginning to despair that it makes any real difference, to the living community in the here-now.

Safe to be 'other'? Safe to be strange? Safe to be a variation, maybe, a new customization, just one more of the many colorful models of the same product (now also in "green")! Safe to be an excuse for people to believe themselves liberally-minded and tolerant of difference without asking them to exert the effort of actually connecting with others, with the existential Other...

Forgive the outburst. I'm learning what you must have learned a long time ago: how to survive by the skin of my skin alone, how to somehow believe that my strangeness, my "specialness", justifies itself and needs no real-life community to engage and transcend it. I'm trying to learn how to make choices in the face of indifference and impotence, rather than outright oppression; how to persist in the stubborn adoration of life and interconnection in a culture whose metaphor for such things is not the forest, but the computer.

And, between you and me, I don't think I'm doing too well at the moment.


A second letter to Lance:


I'm reminded of the different dystopian worlds of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. In one, the oppression is overt--the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of the State and its favored class, the repression of free information, thought and expression. In the other, oppression sneaks in through the backdoor and is pandered to the population not in the name of any institution or ruling class, but in the name of the people's own comfort and pleasure. I didn't mean to belittle your own childhood experiences, or to paint mine as somehow idyllic or ideal (a father who beats one moment and hugs the next is still abusive, and no better, I think, than the cold, unloving, emotionally-abusive parent (which I had in the literal sense)). But I think there's something important to note, that many people overlook, in the difference between obvious violence against the individual that can be identified, named and resisted, and the violence against the individual that takes the form of assimilation and commodification, to be sold back as good and desirable for that very individual it most denies and demeans.

Being a human being is hard work. No amount of material, moral, social or spiritual progress will ever make it any easier. I happen to agree with Aristotle that a human being cannot become most-fully-human (cannot work towards virtue, i.e. human excellence) in isolation from the human community. Nature has been a comfort to me, immensely, but it remains inherently inhuman (though not inhumane) in its company. I refuse to believe that the sense of human community I experienced among friends growing up was merely the result of a protected and pampered life, that it somehow spoiled me, made me weaker or incapable of dealing with "the real world." Instead, what I see mostly among my peers these days are people who don't know what they're missing and therefore can't be bothered to work for it. And it does take work, and not all of that work can be done alone in the woods.

That's one reason why I was drawn to Druidry after several years of trying to get comfortable with Witchcraft (and failing). Among practitioners of Witchcraft, it seems that the outcast, the persecuted individualist, is still romanticized and set up as an archetype to be imitated and praised. It perpetuates, in some repsects, the (especially modern) myth that there is an irresolvable conflict between the individual and the community--one must choose either absolute conformity for the good of the community, or unavoidable isolation for the sake of the self. In Druidry, though, the individual's unique gifts (of art, insight, magic, craftsmanship, wisdom, knowledge, etc.) are not rejected by the community, but integrated and celebrated. The tensions between individual and community are not played down or denied, but engaged with and utilized to raise both the individual and the community to higher levels of freedom and meaning.

To buy into the myth that real community among unique individuals is just the pipe-dream of a coddled mind is, to me, unacceptable. I am a human being, not a bear or a tree, not a consumer, nor a mind floating in a vat somewhere. My animal requires certain things in order to become most excellently itself, and the mindful, honest presence of other human beings is one of those things. I refuse to put on any skin but my own, even if it proves too dull for television and too thin for the wilderness.



  1. Hi, nice page. I like your sketches on flickr.


  2. Hi, there, and thanks! :) Glad you like the blog. I've been thinking of trying to go back to teaching myself to draw again, now that the weather's nicer. Not that weather has anything to do with it, but you know... :)

  3. I know...it happened many times to me. Not that I'm any good at it though.

  4. I wonder how you came to feel that you could not celebrate your self vs community within Wicca. As solitaires, we have adapted what we have learned and applied our own sensibilities and circumstance which is special to us, and when we join with others who practive THEIR reality within Wicca, we can enjoy their expression without surrending what we feel is our own special needs being filled by the Goddess and God. I truly enjoy the fact that their are so many paths towards the same goal and I do enjoy experiencing other peoples ideas in the quest for divinity. Religion becomes a path away from divinity and ultimate truth when one dares to think that their perception of path is the only valid one.

    To be Wiccan by no means means that one must practice "witchcraft" or cast spells. To be Wiccan merely means one has chosen a path that honors a world in which one has been born into and that reverance of said world is a far better thing than domination of it.

  5. and I apoligize for the typos.....it's midnight margarettas tonight.....grin

  6. Michael,

    You know, I never really got into Wicca because in some ways it always just seemed a little (and you'll have to forgive me) silly. Insofar as Wicca as a spiritual path does claim to have a particular theology and is specifically duotheistic, etc.... Or perhaps it's just that most Wicca books I read were so basic that they didn't leave me feeling full (especially because some of their insights about personal worship and such were things I'd been hearing all my life from my own Catholic upbringing, yet they spoke of them as if they were amazing revelations or something). On the other hand, I found some really interesting ideas about the "magical worldview" in books on witchcraft (particularly the feri tradition) and paganism in general.

    I'm sure that different witchcraft and Wicca groups and traditions have different feels, of course, but I still never found one that didn't leave me with a taste of over-emphasis on individualism. Because my first explorations into spiritual paths outside Christianity were through Buddhism and Sufism, both of which have a strong emphasis on overcoming and diminishing the ego, I found the constant need to reinforce that very ego set up in conflict with a largely disliked "mainstream" just a bit distracting. Druidry--at least it seems to me--forgoes this emphasis and instead allows me to focus on the things I've always been fascinated by, such as art, poetry and philosophy. These things allow me to be uniquely myself without drudging up the distracting and illusory ego to content with.

    But again, that has just been my own experience. Others' may have been different.