When Discernment Fails

When my students feel lost or unbalanced I tell them to “go back to the Center”. Find your personal Center, your internal balance point, and work out from there. When you’ve got that as solid as it’s gonna get for now, turn your focus to your physical needs (food, clothing, shelter, health, finances). Once that’s fairly stable focus on your emotional connections with other people, like friends and family. Only when that’s stable enough to get on with should you try to engage with the larger world around you. Doing any of that out of order makes everything harder.

So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. That’s why my blog’s been quiet. I’ve been taking care of what’s closer to home since I lost my balance.

During my quiet time I have accepted and processed recent events, and I’m once again fairly secure in my (new and improved) sense of self. I just this weekend past moved into a wonderful little apartment that suits me down to the ground. My finances are strong and my health is continuing to improve. I’ve reached out to people again after a period of hermitage. I’m once more tuning in to social justice and political issues. My shrines are all finally back up after a hiatus and regular offerings have resumed.

And now I once again turn my attention to this, my blog. At least after all the recent changes I knew what to write about!

What happened?

Last October I moved to New York. Everything came together for that move so perfectly that I saw my Lady’s hand in it. So I tried to figure out why She might want me to move to the East Coast.

Looking back a year later, I still believe She helped me move. I just think I got Her reasons all wrong.

Why? Because here I am, a year later, back in Seattle. She had just as much of a hand in getting me back to the Pacific Northwest as She had in getting me East in the first place. Which means returning was as much part of the plan as going. Or so it seems to me.

Train

Whaddaya know? Trains go both ways!

And that means my discernment at the time failed, at least in part. I’ve had to reassess everything.

I went to New York with the idea that here was a chance for me to live the life of dedicated clergy I thought I wanted. It didn’t work out that way, though. New York simply convinced me that I’m not suited to the role. And I’m thinking that might have been part of the plan all along.

Why?

Simply put, serving as 24/7 clergy – at least for that particular group – fits neither my perspective nor my temperament. And I would never have learned that about myself without doing it.

Perspective

Any group work at all requires compromise. However, the compromises required for my polytheistic self to work closely in a spiritual/ritual way with Pagans are no longer compromises I’m willing to make. That’s on me, and I accept full responsibility for it, but it’s still something I have to manage.

I am a hard polytheist, start and stop. The Powers are as real and individualized as you or I. That truth is the foundation of my life. My entire spiritual path is primarily based on personal UPG, and my relationships with the Powers are completely individualized. I came to this path through Paganism, but I no longer identify as Pagan. Trying to do so leads to feeling a very sharp disconnect. I feel like an outsider looking in instead of part of the group.

slide2_2

I am now the square peg. Awesome.

It’s important to note here that Paganism is just as valid a spiritual path as polytheism. That feeling of disconnect doesn’t mean that I’m right and other folks are wrong, it just means we have different perspectives.

I’m not about to start demanding that the Powers only be honored in the ways that work for me. I’m not the Faith Police, or an asshole, and I honestly believe that the Powers work with people in ways that are dependent on a host of factors I don’t understand. If They work with me as individuals, great. If They work with someone else in a different way, who am I to judge that?

However, while I can intellectually go with that logic I can’t work with it in a ritual setting. It’s profoundly uncomfortable and upsetting. And I certainly can’t effectively teach something I don’t follow! The two perspectives are too different to work with simultaneously and too far apart to bridge, at least for me. In my experience attempts to do either are usually clunky anyway, and dilute the experience for all involved. There’s no reason to do that when separate rituals get the job done.

Separate rituals, though, kind of negate the whole “we’re doing this as a group” concept from the get-go.

My takeaway here? If I’m doing a ritual with other people, those other people need to be as polytheistic as I am, even if that polytheism manifests differently.

That whole perspective doesn’t work with an umbrella Pagan organization, and it’s high time for me to stop trying to force it.

Temperment

Clergy for a group fulfill a number of roles, as I’ve previously discussed. *shrug* And honestly? I’ve discovered that, in general, I’m either not interested in or suited to fulfilling them.

Let me explain.

  • Visionary

The first role is that of a Visionary, someone who conceives of a better way and devotes themselves to sharing that way with others.

I’ve done the first part of that, no question. Over the years I’ve established my own relationships with the Powers, with the Wheel of the Year, with my approach to both spirituality and magick. They click in my head better than any other approach I’ve ever found.

That second part, though? That’s not me, not my path.

My way is personal, individualized, and in many ways unique. It’s better for me, but that in no way makes it a universal thing. Honestly, there aren’t many other people my way would suit. I teach and share my perspective when asked, I maintain a blog, and maybe eventually I’ll publish the books I’ve written for my own use that lay out my particular approach. I wouldn’t say the vague thought of “hey, that might be useful” is devotion to sharing, however, and it’s not something I feel called to do.

Being a Visionary is not a clergy role I feel I can claim. So I don’t.

  • Lore-Tender

The job of a lore-tender is to keep a tradition or path as close to the vision of the founder as possible, through judgment and education. Since I don’t consider my personal path a tradition, there’s no traditional lore to tend. I maintain a ridiculously extensive library containing books about every path I can find, mine or not, and enjoy sharing those resources with others if they’re helpful. But beyond that, tending the lore of a tradition I do not personally follow in my day-to-day life feels hypocritical. And I’ve already explained why teaching my personal path is problematic.

Now general hard polytheism? That’s something I can help with. But that help is either so generalized it’s 101-level knowledge, or so specific it’s more my personal perspective than anything else.

In other words, this isn’t a clergy role I fulfill in anything other than the broadest sense.

  • Ritual Facilitator

Rituals – or at least ritual elements – are what hold a group together, even beyond a shared history and creed. From full sabbat observances to ritual greetings, those elements give a group a foundation that unites its members.

What I do won’t hold a group together. This goes back to my way not being suitable for large numbers of people. My personal rituals aren’t nearly as meaningful to other people as they are to me. However, stepping aside from what I do follow the ritual of another tradition (especially non-polytheistic ones) feels like I’m setting aside all of my personal relationships with the Powers and the UPG with which I’ve been blessed. That feels damned near sacrilegious.

Individual rituals custom-crafted to a specific purpose are fantastic, and I adore the challenge, but they are intentionally one-offs. One-offs do not a tradition make or a group build, though, no matter how much I enjoy them.

  • Pastoral Care-Giver

Short story here? I don’t have enough spoons to make this a regular part of my life.

Pastoral care-giving – supporting group members through trouble and crisis – is something I find equally rewarding and draining. I do it well (or so I’ve been told), but I can’t do a whole lot of it without feeling beaten by sticks. I have occasional issues with fatigue anyway, and dealing with others going through crisis exacerbates this. I get so drained I get depressed. That leads to me becoming even more reclusive than I already am and avoiding people more than I already do.

fish

Little fishy, I totally feel you here!

It simply works out better if I’m not the first person others think of when a crisis situation occurs. There are a few folks who have me on speed-dial for this kind of thing, and all of my students are encouraged to reach out whenever, but for the most part I do this kind of work by referral. I’m like Tier 2 tech support. I only get the people who need their issues escalated.

I do read Tarot for other people, but I charge for each session and almost always require an appointment unless it’s a bona fide emergency. The fee is another kind of gate-keeping, and the appointment helps me manage my energy.

This is not the kind of baggage that works for a group. Wise woman in the woods? Solo urban monastic? Yes and yes, absolutely. But being on call 24/7 to an extensive group isn’t something I could realistically do for any significant stretch of time without draining myself dry and spreading myself way too thin. Maintaining some distance is not just better for me, it’s better for the quality of help I offer.

  • Administrator

I’m good at administration. Seriously, I rock it. However, this role only really becomes a thing within an established tradition or group. There has to be something to administer, right? I think I could fulfill this function for a group if it was the only role I fulfilled, but with everything else I think this talent is better suited to other types of tasks.

What does all that mean?

I realized – after much examination and thought – that I’ve been holding off on other parts of my life to keep myself available for a clergy role if and when it became available. Without my sojourn in New York I don’t know if I’d ever have figured out that I was holding out for something that would not bring me happiness or satisfaction.

I needed to confront it head-on to understand it and move on. My Lady made it almost impossible for me to do otherwise.

That being said, I do not consider my time in New York to be a failure. Not at all! I accomplished quite a bit while I was there. *amused* Just nothing I factored into my planning!

I also don’t have a problem with Pagan practice, in general or specific, and I wish the group I was working with every success. It’s just not for me, not anymore.

Now that I’ve come full circle I’m left with one question that has lasting implications: if serving as 24/7 clergy is no longer a goal to which I aspire, what other areas of life does that open up for me?

I honestly don’t know. There’s been a lot of soul-searching in Casa de Caer as of late.

Nature abhors a vacuum though, and my Lady isn’t shy. I might even have some ideas. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

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