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An Eye For An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind

All art and words by Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy. Please click this image to open a new window and support us at Patreon.

In war, it is unwise to use your sword arm to pat yourself on the back.  Yet I look around at the current “war on discrimination” that is raging within the better half of the Heathen community, and over the past two days, I have seen a lot of people doing exactly that. In fact, I have even seen some people encouraging such behavior through memes suggesting that we all take credit for the Facebook ban of the AFA, even if we were not actively involved in making that happen.  On the flip side, even as this “victory” was taking place, I have sat back and watched as many of those same Heathens who espouse complete anti-discrimination policies (and I am firmly on the side of no discrimination of anyone ever) attack Christians and Christianity as a whole, and attack people for the virtues they are oathsworn to protect (even when they began their post with a caveat patently stating they didn’t expect everyone to uphold those same values).   We cannot pretend, as a group of people, to make war on discrimination while we vehemently maintain our own ways of discriminating against people.  When we do that, the only thing we’re patting ourselves on the back for at the end of the day is hypocrisy.

For those on the outside of the Heathen community, here’s a brief snapshot of what has been going on for the past year:

In September of 2016, Huginn’s Heathen Hof published Declaration 127, which is based on stanza 127 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”, from the Codex Regius, 13th century; believed by Heathens to be the sayings of Odin All-Father):

“When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give your enemies no frith.”–Translation on the HHH website

“When you see evil being done, call it out as evil, and show the evil-doer no peace.”–My Translation

This Declaration is accompanied by a sort of “petition”, which people and organizations may sign to demonstrate their complete denunciation of, and disassociation from, the AFA (the Asatru Folk Assembly).  Those who support Declaration 127 are essentially binding themselves to an oath that:

“While [we] fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right. We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.”

Further, Declaration 127 states:

“The AFA’s views do not represent our communities.  We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do.  We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frith, to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.  The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit.  They are free to stand alone.”

I wholeheartedly supported Declaration 127. 

Why? What had the AFA done that was so wrong as to spark all of this?

The AFA has its roots in the Viking Brotherhood, which was founded by Stephen McNallen in 1972.  This, in turn, became the Asatru Free Assembly in 1974, which gave birth to two other major Heathen organizations: the Asatru Alliance and The Troth.  In 1986, the Asatru Free Assembly was disbanded because McNallen was apparently “too busy” to keep it going. Then, in 1994, he formed the Asatru Folk Assembly (the AFA of today), founded upon a Declaration of Purpose which includes, among other things:

2. The preservation of the People of the North (typified by the Scandinavian/Germanic and Celtic peoples), and the furtherance of their continued evolution;

10. Working to secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. (emphasis mine)

A brief visit to their website (yes, I went there!) sheds further light on the AFA worldview.  Their statement of ethics includes the following (and I really couldn’t begin to make this stuff up):

“Healthy families are the cornerstone of folk society and its strength and prosperity is derived from them.  We in Asatru support strong, healthy white family relationships.  We want our children to grow up to be mothers and fathers to white children of their own.  We believe that those activities and behaviors supportive of the white family should be encouraged while those activities and behaviors destructive of the white family are to be discouraged.” (Again, emphasis mine.)

So, clearly, the AFA is not only racist, but also anti-LGBTQ.  

Which is why it became blatantly obvious to me that I should support Declaration 127.  I mean, clearly, there is zero room in my heart for frith for anyone or any organization who is discriminatory towards people of color, other cultures, other faiths, or members of the LGBTQ community.  And the AFA not only discriminates against these groups that they consider “outsiders” (utangard), but they also muddy the waters for the rest of us who patently do not.  I have experienced this “muddying of the waters” firsthand: to many people outside of the Heathen community, the AFA represents what we all believe, even when they patently do not.  Add to this a large dearth in Heathen publications that are not either advocated by, published by, or have publishing rights owned by the AFA, and you have a recipe for situations in which simply carrying a book in a shop which is remotely associated with the AFA becomes grounds for accusations of Neo-Nazism. (It happens. It has happened. I witnessed it with my own two eyes.)  Such also becomes grounds for those who support Declaration 127 to not give those shops their business, even when said shopowners are in no way, shape, or form remotely affiliated with the AFA.

It’s a slippery slope that has been built, to say the least.

That slope becomes even more slippery when one ventures into the dogmatically Reconstructionist world of many of my fellow supporters of Declaration 127.  I personally reached a point where I no longer shared my writings or my art because “daily crucifixion” is not my idea of a “good time”. I have sat back and watched, stunned, as other people were attacked (to the point of fleeing a group) for having values (to which they were oathsworn) which mirrored the Nine Noble Virtues, purely because those virtues were supposedly first espoused by McNallen and his compatriots, and supposedly not directly derived from historical sources (even though every single one of the virtues in question appear directly in the Havamal).  I have read through countless posts railing against the dreaded “Christian-grafting”, and Christianity and Christians on the whole, even while also espousing a “show it to me in the lore, or it isn’t valid” attitude: when our lore is all a product of Christian authors, written in the post-Christian period.  In short, I have observed those very same people who were so opposed to discrimination constantly discriminate: against those who are “less Reconstructionist” than they are; against Judeo-Christianity on the whole (which, when you think about it, can border on Anti-Semitism, in and of itself), and against anyone who is so “misinformed” as to accidentally promote something which has ever been “tainted” by the AFA whatsoever (in a world where, until about a decade ago, the AFA was pretty much “the only show in town”, and largely remains such when it comes to quality published source material apart from the Eddas and Sagas themselves).  

Many among the supporters of Declaration 127 see this recent Facebook ban of the AFA as a victory, and on many levels, they are not wrong to feel that way.  However, I keep coming back to those last words of Declaration 127; those last words that were still floating in my head as I signed it myself almost a year ago:

“While the undersigned organizations listed here fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right…The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit. They are free to stand alone.”

Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook is neither fully recognizing their right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, nor allowing them to be free to stand for whatever principles they see fit.  Actively working to get an organization banned from Facebook, while supposedly upholding the above principles, is bullying at its basest.  One cannot stop bullying simply by being the better bully!  Yes, there are places within the corpus of the Havamal that suggest “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and bust their heads open while you’re at it”: a thrice-fold sort of vengeance, to make sure things really get sorted and your enemies fully know “who’s boss”.  There are also places within the corpus of the Havamal that say “never trust a woman” and “beguile women with soft words”. We tend to downplay those latter verses, with the argument that we’re living in the twenty-first century, and such sexism has no place here.  Well, there is no place in the world in which we are presently living for thrice-fold vengeance, either. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless, and that is all such attitudes accomplish.

Maybe we have won a battle, with Facebook actively recognizing that the AFA fosters hateful attitudes and hateful speech, but we have not won the war.  So long as we are shackled to our own hypocrisy while at the same time patting ourselves on the back with our sword arms, when the next battle comes, we will have no appendages left available with which to fight!  A zero tolerance policy for discrimination needs be exactly that: a zero tolerance policy.  So long as it is still socially acceptable to point an accusatory finger at someone based on a difference in faith (anti-Christian, anti-Judeo-Christian), or to argue the concept of ergi as anti-LGBTQ as a point of historical fact within our faith-base that still holds true, we patently are not maintaining such a zero tolerance policy.  Instead, we are merely ignoring our own transgressions and shortcomings by loudly focusing attention on the transgressions and shortcomings of others. Until we stop doing that, we will never win this war; we will only serve to perpetuate it.

Declaration 127 is a great ideal, but like most “high ideals”, once you throw actual humans into the mix, things have a way of going terribly, terribly wrong.  I commend its author for what he was trying to do, when he created it, and put it out there to gain the support which it has gained.  I admire him for having the cajones to do something like that, because it took some serious cajones.  Anytime one voice rises up against the Darkness and tries to get others to join them in that fight, it takes courage.  I hope that you will all keep that in mind after having read this post….

 

 

 

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The Death of Trans-Cultural Diffusion

Original digital painting of Bruce Lee by Connla Freyjason, featured within an artist journaling page, also by Connla, 2017.

Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. ~Bruce Lee

I’m writing this today because something recently occurred in a Facebook Group to which we belong that deeply disturbed not only me, but also Michelle, and even my Beloved, Suzanne.  I don’t often like to bring things like this into the blog, but I think this is a topic which is reaching such epidemic proportions that it desperately needs to be addressed.  As the CEO of a business which promotes multiculturalism, this needs to be addressed before someone comes at us, the way they’ve come at the CEO who runs said Facebook Group.

Face it: we’re living in a society full of people who are absolutely desperate to be offended by something.  Which is odd, considering that there are plenty of things to be offended by in our modern world, without having to actively look for something petty to be offended by!  Most of these folks who are so eager to be offended run about chanting big words like cultural appropriationcultural misappropriation, and politically correct, while at the same time casting themselves as supposed champions of multiculturalism. Yet, oddly, none of them seem to know what any of these words/phrases actually mean! So, before I start the storytelling portion of this blog post, let’s get those definitions out of the way:

Cultural Appropriation: (sometimes abbreviated CA)  The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.  Can include using other cultures’ traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and cultural songs without permission.  

Cultural Misappropriation: The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture in violation of the intellectual property rights of the original culture.  Differs from acculturationassimilation, or cultural exchange in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context–sometimes against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

Politically Correct: (sometimes abbreviated PC) Language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society; conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of gender or race) should be eliminated.

Multiculturalism:  The existence of multiple culture traditions within a single community, usually considered in terms of the culture associated with an aboriginal or indigenous ethnic group and foreign ethnic groups.  Multicultural ideologies and policies vary widely, ranging from advocacy of equal respect to the various cultures in a society, to policies of promoting the maintenance of cultural diversity, to policies in which people of various ethnic and religious groups are addressed by the authorities as defined by the group to which they belong.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that there are other terms in bold within those definitions? Let’s define those while we’re at it, plus one: Trans-cultural Diffusion:

Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property Rights: (sometimes abbreviated as IP)  Intellectual property refers to creations of the intellect for which a monopoly is assigned to designated owners by law.  Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the protections granted to the creators of IP, and include trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets. Artistic works, including music and literature, as well as discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs can be protected as intellectual property.  The purpose of IPR is to “promote progress”:  by exchanging limited exclusive rights for disclosure of inventions and creative works, society and the patent/copyright owner mutually benefit, and an incentive is created for inventors and authors/artists to create and disclose their work.

Acculturation:  The process of cultural change and psychological change that results following the meeting of two different cultures. Acculturation is a direct change of one’s culture through dominance over another’s culture through either military or political conquest (in other words, via colonialism).

Assimilation:  The process by which a person or a group’s language and/or culture come to resemble those of another group.  The term is used to refer to both individuals and groups, and in the latter case can refer to either immigrant diasporas or native residents that come to be culturally dominated by another society (again, colonialism).

Cultural Exchange:  An exchange of students, artists, athletes, etc. between two distinct cultures to promote mutual understanding.

Colonialism and “colonial manner”:  The establishment of a community in one territory by a political power from a different territory, and the subsequent maintenance, expansion, and exploitation of that colony.  Also used as a term to describe an unequal relationship between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and displaced indigenous or aboriginal people. (Note: given the definitions of acculturation and assimilation above, hopefully the problem with the sentence “Cultural misappropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation….in that the appropriation or misappropriation refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner” becomes self-evident…..)

Cultural Diversity:  The existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.  The quality of diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture, the global culture, or a homogenization of cultures, akin to cultural decay.  Can also refer to having different cultures respect each other’s differences.

Trans-Cultural Diffusion:  The spread of cultural items–such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, languages, etc.–between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one culture to another, usually resulting in innovation and the betterment of all societies/cultures involved.

 

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way so that we’re all on the same page, the story (without too many details) of what sparked all of this:

We belong(ed) to a group based off of a series of books that promote organizing your life and your business in a spiritual way, with an emphasis on muticulturalism (we thought) and “sisterhood” (or, in my case, at the very least community).  Yesterday, someone came into the group criticizing the author for her use of cultural appropriation on several pages of these books, specifically when urging readers to explore the creation of mandalas (Hindu/Buddhist), seeking spirit animals (which they felt was a specifically Native American practice), participating in shamanic drumming (which they also felt was a specifically Native American practice), and exploring yoga (East Indian) as a practice.  Others then joined in the discussion, adding criticism of the author’s use of images of women of color in her artwork (said author is Caucasian) and dreamcatchers (Native American; specifically Ojibwe, later adopted by other Native Peoples, including the Lakota).  My immediate response was to roll my eyes and mutter privately under my breath that if this same author had only included images of other Caucasians throughout her work and had only suggested “suitably White activities,” they would all be decrying her as a racist instead.  She literally could not win, either way.

The other big issue with these people’s allegations is that they attributed at least two of the things on the list to cultures which patently haven’t “cornered the market” on the things in question: neither spirit animals nor shamanic drumming are exclusively Native American.  In fact, the word shamanic isn’t even of Native American origin–the word shaman is actually from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia (i.e., Siberia)!  Shamanic drumming actually co-originates in the Native American culture, Aboriginal Australian culture, Mongolian culture, and Saami culture (the indigenous people of Scandinavia), as well as many other tribal cultures with systems of religion which focus on trancework and religious ecstasy.  The use of spirit animals likewise covers all of these shamanic cultures, as well as many others wherein animism is practiced. The other two major things at issue–the creation of mandalas and the practice of yoga–are actually associated with world religions: specifically, Hinduism and Buddhism.  Last time I checked, religions are open to people of all cultural persuasions and racial backgrounds, and when that isn’t the case, things like the need for Declaration 127  in Heathenry happen.

Apparently all of these people are operating on the same misguided notion as most of their compatriots who scream “that’s not politically correct, that’s cultural mis/appropriation!” every chance that they get: that a culture can or even should hold intellectual property rights on those things which are uniquely representative of that specific culture.  Rather than make a summary proclamation on whether or not I actually feel that that should or should not “be a thing”, let’s take a look at what our world would be like if it actually were…..

The year is 1271.  A seventeen year old Venetian sets off for Asia on a series of adventures with his uncle.  They spend 24 years, traveling along the Silk Road to Mongolia.  While on those travels, he refuses to write anything down, because he fears being accused of cultural misappropriation.  He returns home, and centuries later, people all across Europe continue to pay for their goods either via the barter system or with bags of gold. Paper money is never invented in Europe.  Eyeglasses are also never invented in the West.  People continue to send mail via carrier pigeon, because the postal system, which already existed in Mongolia, is never introduced in the West.  The Industrial Revolution happens in Asia, rather than in the West, because coal is never introduced as a primary fuel source in the West.  North America and South America exist only as small colonies of Scandinavia and the Irish because none of the other explorers ever go there, because they do not have the inspiration of Marco Polo to spur them forward.

The year is 1954.  “Race music” emerges, consisting of influences from African oral storytelling, heavy rhythmic influences, and call and response song styles.  Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, and Gospel music never develop, because America’s “black population” fears cultural misappropriation: they do not want to participate in the same level of colonialism as their Caucasian oppressors.  Rock and roll and Rockabilly also never happen. Country Music as we know it today never happens.  Elvis Presley never happens. Western culture remains segregated by race. 

The year is 1959.  A Chinese-German immigrant from Hong Kong who is a senior at Edison Technical School in Seattle begins teaching non-Asians the martial arts.  He does so for five years, dropping out of college in 1964 and moving to Oakland, California, where he continues to practice his reverse-colonialism and subversive reverse cultural appropriation of teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians.  He draws the line, however, at adopting from other Asian forms or even from the fighting styles of other cultures, making sure to keep his style–the style he is teaching to non-Asians, remember–distinctly Chinese Gung Fu in the Wing Chun style.  When invited to attend a Karate Championship hosted in Long Beach in that year, he refuses the invitation.  When approached by one of the foremost authorities on the Korean fighting style of Taekwondo, he refuses to take the call.  Finally, in outrage, the Chinese community issues a challenge: stop teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians. He complies.  Bruce Lee never happens. The entire genre of martial arts action films never happens. Some of the greatest philosophy ever written never happens.

This is the sort of world we are destined to live in if we cling to the battle-cry of being “politically correct” and not practicing “cultural misappropriation”.  What myself and others, including that poor author whose group we just left, are trying to promote is multiculturalism via trans-cultural diffusion, a phenomenon which has existed since humans first began having contact with other humans.  Trans-cultural diffusion gave us many of the things which we consider necessities in life: paper money, technology (via the Industrial Revolution), integration, and the global community that we live in today.  It also gave us many things which it would be very hard for us to imagine living without: martial arts films, rock and roll, pasta, and even Chinese takeaway.  When we scream for intellectual property rights to be applied to cultural heritage, we are likewise begging to rob our children and future generations of innovation! So take a few minutes to roll that around in your brain.  Are you so selfish, whatever your cultural heritage might be, that you don’t want future generations to benefit from having known that culture? Shall we stop growing, as a global culture, simply because these few people fear being offended or offending someone else?

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Breaking The Wheel

Background paper, Buddha corner, journalers, mala, and prayer wheel, all from Samsara by Connla for Iaconagraphy; page blend from free Beloved mini-kit by Connla and Tobias for Iaconagraphy; blended painting is Archangel Uriel by Daniel P. for Iaconagraphy.

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with any sort of Asian spirituality, Samsara means “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.”  It’s a Sanskrit word, having its roots in Vedic traditions (read: India), which is fully explored as a spiritual practice not only in Hinduism, but in Buddhism as well. Samsara is viewed as a cyclical wheel, from which we desperately need to be liberated: the ultimate spiritual ideal is to achieve Nirvana (Buddhism) or Moksha (Hinduism), essentially breaking the wheel of Samsara.  This is accomplished by finding one’s True Self, knowing one’s own Soul, thereby ending the suffering of ignorance, empty desire, and the unethical actions to which both of those things lead.  For those of you familiar with my other work, and with my daily spiritual practices (Druidic Heathen), it may come off as a bit odd that I’m suddenly creating art with a Buddhist-Hindu “backbeat”.  For those who know me best, however, it comes as no shock at all that I needed to “get this art out”, or that I needed these assets myself, to be able to fully express the depth and breadth of my spirituality fully. 

Regardless of the shell I’m wearing (I artist journaled about that yesterday; see below), on the inside of all of that, I’m a Chinese-American, with a heavy influx of Norwegian and German bloodlines.  My first faiths, as a child, were Buddhism, Taoism, and Episcopalian.  When I first began my journey down this Druidic Heathen Path on which I’m presently travelling, it gave me great comfort knowing that the Celts, Germanic Tribesmen, and even the original Norsemen all shared an Indo-European cultural root: the same cultural root which also gave us Buddhism (and Hinduism).  That sort of let me know I was “in the right neighborhood”.  Truth is, there is a large amount of my Buddhist/Taoist root that I’m just never going to “shake”, nor do I wish to.  It’s perfectly congruent with everything in which I so deeply believe.

Background paper from By The Sea by Beetle for Iaconagraphy (retired; re-releasing, Summer 2017); journaler, block alpha, and tassel string from Samsara by Connla for Iaconagraphy.

As a Chinese-American, my artistic roots also lie in Asia: my first forays into art were with traditional Chinese Watercolor (to which I desperately need to return at some point!), and most of my earliest pen and ink drawings were of dragons and martial artists.  As I’ve evolved into a digital artist, I haven’t left those aesthetics behind.  Taking the leap into the world of creating digital assets that enable others to express themselves artistically through digi-scrap and digital (and hybrid!) artist journaling was a bit of a rude awakening to my cultural sensibilities: almost everything that is out there on the market that is supposed to have “Asian flair” has a tendency to be non-Asians’ idea of what Asian art looks like, rather than authentic. You wind up with a lot of cartoon pandas, and fortune cookies, and Chinese takeaway boxes.  While I hate the term “cultural theft”, because I think it leads to a certain level of pomposity, and most of the time only serves to further divide and segregate what should be a globally multicultural society, what I found “out there”, in the “digi-scrap/AJ world” was stereotypical at best, and offensive at its worst. I needed to do something to make that right.

While all of this was floating around in my fevered brain, in November of 2016, panic struck America.  I don’t like to get political in this blog (or anywhere else), because generally in the wake of the last election, I’ve found being political only breeds firestorms, and firestorms only breed a certain vapid level of hatred, rather than the peace I’m oathbound to promote, but regardless of which side of the aisle you or I are on, I think we can all agree that in November 2016, something on the level of meteoric catastrophe hit the world’s psyche, and pushed it off of some previously undefined edge.  I was immediately reminded of the history of the Cultural Revolution in China (which, for those unfamiliar with the term, was decidedly not a revolution, in the positive sense of that word, but actually a cultural apocalypse), and I knew: Samsara‘s time had come.

Samsara’s time had come, but unfortunately, so had Christmas/Yule, which meant “holiday selections” needed to be our primary focus at Iaconagraphy, and my “passion project” would need to temporarily take a backseat.  So I bided my time, finding things that were suitable for extraction, and made the first draft of the artist papers that would eventually become the ones you find in the Collection today.  Then January rolled around, and it was time for the first Gathering of 2017, and I was forced to continue to bide my time, eeking out an element or a piece of word art in between, as I needed them while I was creating pages to help us make the shift from strictly digi-scrap to an artist journaling focus.  Finally, here we are in February–almost four months later–and I can finally show Samsara to the world.

But this set is about far more than digital do-lollies that will make your pages look pretty; ultimately, this set is about breaking the wheel.  Now, more than ever, the oath I took in March of 2016 as Rigfenneidh of this Grove are important, and I find they suddenly aren’t just important to me, as one individual: they are important to all, that everyone might learn to live that way, and perhaps fix this world in the process, and get it off the wheel, for once and for all.  It’s so easy for me to sit here and type that, but how does one live that way, when they aren’t Rigfenneidh of some teeny, tiny Grove who considers themselves responsible for the welfare of other people?

Newsflash: we are all responsible for the welfare of other people!

And we’re all living in a time when everybody is itching for a fight, but few are willing to fight the right way, or for the right things, or sometimes neither know nor care what that means.  That old adage of “the best defense is a good offense” is leaving the whole world blind, and scratching and gnawing at each other in its blindness.  The best defense is love and kindness.  Admittedly, that sounds very tra-la-la.  But let’s face it: if love were easy, we’d all be in it; we’d all have it; it would be everywhere, and it’s not.  Likewise, if kindness were easy, we’d all be doing it.  The modern ideals of love and kindness are sanitized concepts that have more to do with rainbows and unicorn farts than with the actual concepts of what love and kindness really are!  Love is not chocolates and flowers and romantic sweet-nothings whispered in some lovely’s ear, and kindness is not smiling blankly and saying “have a nice day”.  No, love–real love–is a willingness to put yourself between something dear to you and danger, no matter what that might ultimately mean for your welfare.  Love says because, not despite, even when all of the becauses suck out loud.  And kindness–real kindness–is an inner will to do what is best for others especially when the other person doesn’t deserve it.  It’s a form of practiced grace, for all of you out there with Christian backgrounds who actually understand the New Testament implications of that word.  Neither love nor kindness has a single thing to do with being nice.  Nice is just a very benevolent way of saying “clueless”.  Both real love and real kindness can call us to fight with righteous fury, but the keyword in this sentence is righteous, not fight….

Peace is another one of those words that we have over-sanitized; we can mostly thank the Flower Children of the 1960s for that.  In our society, we tend to have this vision of what that word means that includes some idyllic setting, with everyone “making love not war”, amidst enormous clouds of vaporous smoke (possibly of an intoxicating variety).  But that is no more real peace than our over-sanitized view of love and kindness are real love or real kindness.  Real peace is Truth.  Not my truth, not your truth; The Truth.  Real peace is freedom from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, and obsession.  How do we break free of all that? By learning The Truth:  that all things (including people, even the unpleasant ones) are connected, and deserve to be treated with compassion.  There’s another word we’ve over-sanitized: compassion.  We tend to view it in modern society as a sort of “pet-pet-pet” mentality, when in reality, it is something far deeper (and somewhat darker) than that. Compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering”.  That’s right, folks: compassion demands more of us than band-aids and kissed boo-boos; it requires us to actually feel something, and then, beyond that, to actually do something about our feelings!  While that may not sound terribly peaceful by our modern standards of that word, it’s the only way to bring peace.  If we could ever stop to realize that everyone is going through the same thing–the same suffering–just on different levels and in different ways, through different things, we would be much less apt to get annoyed by others.  We wouldn’t be as easily distracted from The Truth by all the shiny bells and whistles that society tries to throw at us in an effort to get us not to feel such things.  Our anxiety levels would diminish (because there really is something to that old Southern saying that “misery loves company”), and we would become far less obsessed with chasing after the things we think are going to make us happy, and instead focus on what actually will: doing the right thing by other people and ourselves.

Which brings us to the doing of all of this: teaching those who need teaching and helping those who need help.  

In our society, we’ve so often cast the teacher as the “know-it-all” with the loud mouth and the striking ruler who bases everything on logic and reason and their overabundance of mental capacity that the very words teach and teacher have become near-synonymous with forcing knowledge down someone’s throat or into someone’s brain.  But in the earliest societies–some of which I draw from in my Druidic Heathen practice–one could not teach unless one was also a poet, an artist, or a storyteller. In those societies, it was understood that it was the heart, not the head, which needed to learn lessons. Former priest and spiritual author Matthew Fox made a beautiful statement about this:

“The Celtic peoples, for example, insisted that only poets could be teachers.  Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous; it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners.  What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow?”

“Knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous.”  That aforementioned view of the teacher as a pompous force-feeder of knowledge (whether we like it or want it or not!) is born largely out of our tendency to teach from the head, not from the heart. When we stay caught up in our own brains, we gravitate towards a facts-and-figures way of living that leaves little room for the compassion that is required, if we want to have peacelove, and kindness.  In other words, it leaves little room for The Truth.  There is also absolutely nothing whatsoever compassionate about force-feeding anyone anything, knowledge or otherwise.  Force-feeding is, in fact, in and of itself, a form of power trip, and such power trips can be soul-crushing.  It’s important that we move from such force-feeding toward teaching those who actively need teaching, rather than teaching the ones we think need to learn a lesson.  There’s a very big difference between those two things!  People who actively need teaching are those who have already shown, through their actions, words, and deeds, that their heart is “operating on the same wavelength” as your heart, whereas those we think need teaching tend to be the exact opposite: they’re the ones we have unceasing wars-of-words with, who never seem to come out on the other side of those conversations one bit wiser than when they first strolled in.  But why teach those who actively need teaching, if they’re already “on the right track”, so to speak?  For that matter, what does one teach such people, if they already know the basics enough to be on the same wavelength in the first place?  Shouldn’t we instead be exerting all of our energies on the people who clearly don’t have a clue, even if we have to hold them down if necessary?  No! At its best, true teaching is an exchange of ideas–a process of questions and answers which goes all the way back to Ancient Greece, and the Socratic Method.  It requires a dialogue. Those who are unwilling to engage in true dialogue cannot learn a blessed thing!  For those people, we have a different teaching method: teaching through example.  And that doesn’t just mean setting a good example in the way that you behave and speak, that also means employing the simplest form of education known to humanity: teaching through symbology.  Why do you think pre-school children respond best when taught through play, or through picture books?  Because those methods of teaching use symbology to get the point across when language fails us. Symbols communicate to the heart in a way that sometimes words cannot.  This requires a return to the artist, the poet, and the storyteller–lofty goals by modern standards for many of us.  But there is a poet within all of us; an artist; a storyteller. Every human being is a collection of stories; every doodle or artist journal page or bit of digi-scrap is the work of the artist within.  We are all forced to become poets when something is so wondrous it defies normal words, whether at the birth of a child, or at first falling in love, or when the sky turns to porcelain after a February snow.

Everyone needs help.  Those who trouble us most need it most of all.  That person who makes you so angry that your blood boils just thinking about them: that is a desperate cry for help.  Again, this teeters woefully on the edge of tra-la-la.  When we say “help others” in our modern society, we get caught up in images of “hands across America” (or wherever else); “hands touching hands”…it very quickly becomes a Neil Diamond song, and we’re all swaying with our own hands in the air at a Red Sox game in Fenway Park.  Yet again, that is not the true meaning of the words to help:

help: to save, rescue, or give succor; to make something less difficult or easier; to contribute to; to facilitate; to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means; render assistance to; aid; cooperate effectively with; assist; to be useful or profitable to; to refrain from; to avoid (usually preceded by cannot); to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy.

Yes, that “hands touching hands” sense of the word is in there, but what most find surprising are the last bits of the true definition: to refrain from; to avoid; to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy.  Sometimes the best help for someone is not a loving pat on the back, but instead a swift kick in the rear!  Continual allowance of letting a person make you so angry that just thinking about them makes your blood boil isn’t helping you, or them.  Chances are, it’s not hurting them, either, though it is hurting you.  When I say that their continued behavior is a desperate cry for help, I don’t mean help of the “pat on the back” variety; I mean that second kind.  Perhaps if someone refrained from being in their presence, or avoided their attitude, or maybe even went out on a limb and relieved or broke the uniformity of their behavior, by calling them on it–by correcting them–it would remedy the situation, and help them become a better human!  Certainly, such forms of help need to be undertaken from the viewpoint of the heart, not the head, so that they do not become dangerous power trips of their own, but correction is a form of help.  Just sitting around “bitching about it” isn’t helping anyone, however: it’s not helping you, it’s not helping the person who listens consolingly as you complain, and it’s definitely not helping the person or situation causing you to feel this way in the first place!  One can only accomplish this “second sort of help” if one is also actively living a lifestyle that promotes that more “traditional sort of help”, however: you need to correct yourself, by living a compassionate life, before you go off correcting others.

This is the only way we can break the wheel

  • Understand The Truth: we are all connected, and everyone and everything deserves to be treated with compassion.
  • Defend The Truth through love and kindness, with vehemence when necessary.
  • Understand that Peace is Truth. Spread it accordingly.
  • Teach those who need teaching through dialogue; teach everyone else via life-example and symbology.
  • Help everyone, including your Self.

I invite all of you to grab some digital assets (that freebie we released yesterday comes with a 30% off coupon for your next total purchase!), and create an artist journal page (or even a Facebook Meme–Canva can help you out with that!), and come on over and post it to our Facebook Page (or even to your own profile with the hashtag #Iaconagraphy).  Spread The Truth; break the wheel!