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Not Enjoying The Silence

Back in May, a white supremacist touting himself as a Heathen stabbed and killed two young men on a train in Portland, Oregon, when those two young men attempted to protect a pair of Muslim women from the supremacist’s attacks on them.  Members all across the Heathen Community raised their voices in an attempt to educate the rest of the world on what we actually believe and practice, lest we get lumped in with the “bad Heathens”.  I rarely get political, but it was enough to drive me to write a blog post about Declaration 127.

(You can find that blog post here, and Declaration 127 here.)

On August 12, 2017, violence erupted when white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Ostensibly organized to prevent the removal of yet another remnant of Confederate history–this time, a statue of Robert E. Lee–from a city park, it quickly became apparent that this “march” was more about making history repeat itself, than about defending history so that it doesn’t repeat.  The white nationalists gathered around the site, “defending” it with Viking-styled shields.  Don’t believe me? Check this out:

(You can find that photo here.)

The response of the Heathen community in the wake of what has been described by some as an act of domestic terrorism? Thus far, I’ve seen maybe two posts. And I’m not enjoying the silence….neither is Tyr.

As technically-a-person-of-color (I’m of Asian descent; Chinese, specifically) who happens to be Heathen, and also happens to be spending his afterlife inhabiting a white Southern woman, I find that once again, I cannot keep my mouth shut.  I can’t keep politics off of this blog right now; to do so would go against every fiber of who and what I am. Before I proceed, you might want to thoroughly acquaint yourself with the beginning of that last sentence: I am notwhite guy; repeat: I am notwhite guy. I’m also devoutly Heathen. All set? Okay, that clarification completely out of the way, let’s continue:

As a group of people practicing a Reconstructionist or at least Reconstructionist-derived religion, Heathens, on the whole, are obsessed with history.  We only know what we know about our faith–enough to actually have this faith and have it continue to exist–because of historians, and anthropologists, and archaeologists.  Because we are so needfully well-acquainted with history, most of us are also very well aware of that old adage: 

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. ~Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman–a Dubliner, to be precise–as well as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who supported the American Revolution.  It’s a great quote, and growing more and more powerful by the day in our modern age, but the truth is, there are absolutely zero corroborating sources proving that Burke ever actually said or wrote those words.  That he said them first is a tradition.  However, we do know of someone else who absolutely said something quite similar:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana

So who the heck was George Santayana?  He was a Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was raised and educated in the United States from the age of eight and identified himself as an American, even though he maintained dual citizenship.  In fact, he spent most of his life not far from where I’m writing this: in Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the very same Revolution that Edmund Burke so firmly supported. 

Why is that so important for this discussion: that Santayana was of Latin/Hispanic descent?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you can likely arrive at that answer easily enough.  A person of color, and specifically, an immigrant person of Spanish descent actually said the words that both sides of the present argument are constantly using against each other in the worst ways imaginable. Chew on that for a minute.

Michelle and I both have written numerous posts here and elsewhere in defense of not tearing down Confederate monuments, and not erasing the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage (not hate!), largely based on the argument of Santayana’s famous quote.  We stand by those arguments. However, on the other side of our arguments, which come from a very genuine place of standing behind that aphorism, there are people like those guys with the viking-style shields in Charlottesville, Virginia who are ostensibly defending the same things for the same reasons, but not really.  And they proved that conclusively on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

Because those people wouldn’t “dirty their mouths” with a quote from a Spanish immigrant, if they had actually known that was who said it.  It would be totally valid and “okay” if it had been said by the white guy from Dublin, but, oh my, the shock and disgust if they realized it had been said by a Spanish immigrant! (Who’s mother, by the way, was raised in the Philippines.)

This brief history of quotes (and the juicy irony involved) aside, the fact remains that the initial vision of those white nationalists (before the “real violence” ensued) is an image of a bunch of white, bearded dudes, standing in solidarity, behind a freaking Viking-style shield wall.  The guy who actually drove the car that killed the one person who perished in this “debacle”–who, incidentally, was white, just like the two young men who lost their lives in Portland, Oregon, back in May (not that that should matter, mind you, but the tragic irony should not be lost on anyone, which is why I point it out)–also stood in that initial wall, holding a shield.

(Don’t believe me? Check out this photo. He’s the second from the left, in front of a poster bearing yet more appropriated Heathen symbols, as well as appropriated Christian symbols: the Algiz rune, and a Chi Rho, respectively.)

And yet the Heathen community stands largely silent this time around, and I would really, very dearly, like to know why? So would Tyr.

For that matter, why aren’t Christians screaming about their symbology being appropriated by these asshats?  Because not all Christians are of the conservative, alt-right variety, anymore than all Heathens are of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi variety….

Plenty of people were out there screaming and yelling and having hissy fits back in 2015, when the outcry against the Confederate flag grew so loud that the General Lee, the car driven by the Dukes of Hazard, legit got a makeover, and resulted in the show (still in syndication) getting banned, even though most of its storylines that even touched on race relations in the South involved inclusiveness, rather than bigotry. (Though I never really cared for the show, I can honestly say it was a bit of a “redneck primer” on inclusivity, and I give it kudos for doing that way back in the 1970s.) Yet when it comes to actual religious symbols from whatever faith being bastardized, everybody’s suddenly mute? What gives?

Instead of an outcry on either side of the religious divide over such important matters, the one thing that everybody seems to be able to agree on is crucifying our current president for his statements in the aftermath of Charlottesville 2017.  I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  I try to largely keep my opinions on such things out of this blog, off of our Facebook page, and generally out of my sphere of discussion in general. Trump gets zero frith in my heart or mind, to the point that he’s so utangardh that he basically doesn’t exist to me.  In other words, I put him so “far away from me” that I don’t let his energy touch my own in any capacity. I find that’s healthier for me.  However, while I can understand people’s outrage that he did not single out the white supremacists involved (further proof, most argue, that he’s “in bed” with those people), that’s not the rhetoric being used by most people in opposition to his reaction to decry what he said.  No, what he’s being crucified for is saying that there was wrong on both sides.  Honestly, this is one of the few times in his presidency that he’s actually said something halfway honest or halfway correct.

So how dare I make such a statement?  How could somebody–anybody–who is against racism and patently against Trump himself deign to say such a thing?  Because we’re living in a world where everybody so desperately wants their side to be right that they’re willing to invoke violence to prove it, no matter how wrong they actually are, and even an imbecile like Trump can see it!

Don’t get it twisted: I am in no way, shape, form or fashion attempting to defend Trump in all this. What I am saying is that if what he actually meant in his statements is that “two wrongs never make a right“, then for one, brief shining moment in his presidency, he’s actually been right about something!  And we should probably all take a moment to bask in the shock of that, before moving on toward cohesion.

Because I don’t know if anybody else has recognized this yet, but our country hasn’t had anything remotely resembling cohesion, when it comes to racial relations, since seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin fell to gunfire on a rainy February day in Florida in 2012.  That was during the Obama administration, folks–long before Trump was even a glimmer in the eye of the American conservative right-wing; back when he was just some orange-haired loudmouth whose primary vocabulary consisted of the words “You’re fired!”.  That was when we actually had a president of color!  That was the tragic death that began both the “Black Lives Matter” and the “Thin Blue Line” movements, and yet, forgotten by most people in the ensuing violence, raging arguments on both sides, and subsequent hate crimes, the dude who actually shot Trayvon Martin was also a person of color, and patently not a cop:  George Zimmerman is a man of Hispanic descent (specifically, Peruvian) who worked as an insurance fraud investigator while working towards an associate degree in criminal justice.  Zimmerman shot Martin while “serving” as the head of the local Neighborhood Watch program: he thought Trayvon “looked suspicious”, pursued the young man, and subsequently shot him.

What color the people involved in a situation–any situation–are ultimately does not matter when innocent lives are being lost. The symbols of my faith and your faith ultimately do not matter when innocent lives are being lost, either.  What ultimately matters is that we are all one family–the human race–and when we lose even one member of that family, we all lose.  There are no sides in that; there shouldn’t be any sides at all!  When someone dies innocently, everybody loses. Period.

If people are going to be building shield-walls around anything–any ideology–it should be that one!  Yet, that isn’t the case, unfortunately.  In fact, in most circles nowadays, if you have the cajones to say the words “all lives matter“, you’re instantly labeled as part of the racist scum! How the hell does that work out?

I became Heathen because faith, folk, and family was an ideal I could get behind: because, for me, treating other people honorably and fairly is the very crux of my faith, and the entire human race is both my folk and my family.  Very quickly, I discovered this was patently not what these words represented to most other Heathens, thanks to the bastardization of that phrase by the white supremacists among us.  To that subset, faith means guarding (white) folk and their (white) family from any outside forces seeking to “muddy” those waters with “other colored blood”.  Gobsmacked really is too small a word to describe how I felt upon said discovery.  I came to this Path because the core of it–that phrase, now bastardized–represented everything to me that I have believed my entire life, and now I am left with the astonishing realization that, like that famous quote from The Princess Bride, that phrase “does not mean what I think it means”.  

And maybe that’s the main reason why people are so gods-damned silent in the wake of Charlottesville 2017, even when the bastardization of the symbols of our faith are so morbidly less hidden in this “debacle”, than they were in the crime committed against those two young men (and the Muslim women they were trying to defend) in Portland, Oregon, three months ago.  Maybe it’s because the very foundation of our faith has become rocky ground on which to stand.  Or maybe it’s because there are far too many would-be Vikings among us, and not enough faithfilled people.  That “us versus them” sentiment was the very thing on which the Viking mindset rested, wasn’t it? I mean, after all? We see the thirst for it–that “us versus them” mentality–every time a member of our community says foul things about “those Christians”, lumping every follower of Christ in with the conservative crap-eaters; every time a member of our community talks about the Christian “weak god” or “dead god”; every time a member of our community types the letters UPG with hate and disdain as an expression of how “non-historically-accurate” true experiences of living faith are or possibly can be. It’s hard to cry out against people taking sides–no matter what those sides might be–when you’re a community divided in upon itself because people are so damned busy creating sides to take!

As a Chinese-American dead guy inhabiting a white Southern woman, I am quickly reaching a point where I am honestly afraid to wear my Thor’s Hammer in public or proudly show off any of the other symbols of my Heathen faith–runes included.  I’m afraid that people will “get the wrong impression” and label me as a racist. I am just as afraid, at this point, of the “inclusivity-championing liberals” as many Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans are of certain factions of the conservative right-wing.  And it patently should not be that way for either side of the equation! Yet, here we are.  And silence by our community in the wake of Charlottesville 2017 only serves to perpetuate that climate of fear.

So I will not join in that silence!

My faith is in a Deity(s) Who looks down upon this human race and sees, without doubt, and for once and for all, that we are all the same family.  My folk are those who will stand with me, against injustice: whether that injustice is due to race, creed, gender, or any other “dividing” factor.  And my family is the human race.  As Bruce Lee once said:

“Under the sky, under the heavens, Man, there is but one family.”

And I raise my own shield, not to defend some statue wrought by human hands in another time or place, or even some distant history which is too easily revised to suit the current political climate, but instead to defend that Truth which has always been with us:

We all matter.  Every man and woman is someone else’s mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, child. And every mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, and child matters.

We will never enjoy true peace until we realize this. Hate will continue to grow, no matter how bright and shining the motives of those who decide to take the side of the Right and the Just.  Until everyone is on that same side–so long as sides remain–we’re all living in No Man’s Land. And No Man’s Land is the place of stalemates, not victory.

 

 

 

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Go Where The Wind Takes You….

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s January Gathering: Winter Wonder; masked photo is Cliffs of Maine by Connla Freyjason; masked image of Odin by Hans Thoma, open domain; Quote by Lindsey Maxwell, author of Fenris: The Wolf and the White Lady, available via Amazon, and soon from Saga Press.

“Not bound to swear allegiance to any master, wherever the wind takes me I travel as a visitor. 

Drop the question what tomorrow may bring, and count as profit every day that Fate allows you.” —Horace, Roman Poet (65-8 BC)

I’ve officially decided to become a Viking.  Not in some culturally inappropriate “Brosatru” kind of way, but in the very real sense of what that word actually means.  You see, to those uninitiated in Norse Culture, the term Viking has come to mean an entire cultural period and the Norse people who lived during it, when, in fact, it was originally a job title, from the Old Norse vikingr based off of the root word vik (creek, or river).  The word could be used as a noun or a verb: as a noun, it meant a person who lived near a bay or harbor who sailed up rivers seeking adventure; as a verb, it meant literally to sail up a river seeking such an adventure.  When I say I’ve decided to become a Viking, I don’t mean that I’m preparing to run out and buy myself a seax and the oft-misrepresented horned helmet and take up sailing! No, when I say I’ve decided to become a Viking I mean that I have finally realized that I am a man living by a bay (Boston or Salem, MA; take your pick!) who has decided to live every day, not in the toil of flogging a day-job, but instead sailing upriver towards whatever new adventure awaits!

Ragnar Lodbrok gives excellent advice for the modern would-be Viking in the History Channel show of the same name:

Don’t waste your time looking back; you’re not going that way!

Last week, as I watched my social media numbers slip while I took some much-needed time away to settle things here in “unplugged life land”, a rather catastrophic realization dawned: I have spent most of the past twenty four years looking backwards.  Even at times when my afterlife has been its happiest, I have steadily cast a longing eye back on the “life I had before”, whether that backward glance was to remember money, fame, fortune, or the legacy-that-only-halfway-was.  Meanwhile, I’ve been gifted, literally against all odds, with the second chance at life that I have right now, right here, today.  Now, if that seems stupid to you–maybe even a little bit selfish–let me be the idiot who tells you you’re not wrong!  Those backward glances have only gotten more frequent, as I have attempted to whip Iaconagraphy into shape as an actual business. With every single newsletter unsubscribe, every single newsletter unsubscriber who labels us as spam without ever even opening the damn email in the first place, every item that never sells, and the daily lack of any Patreon subscribers whatsoever, I look backwards, and contemplate how things might be different if I was still the me that I was before. But I’m not that me, and I can never be that me again, and honestly, I don’t want to be him again. I like the me I am right now, right here, today.  

Looking backwards is just a waste of time and energy.  So, why have I continued to do it?  Well, there is, of course, that old saying: “Hindsight is 20/20“.  But is it, really?  For it to really be 20/20 (crystal clear; a perfect vision), it would have to not be tainted by our own perceptions.  It would have to not be colored by our own baggage.  And face it: neither of those two things is ever the case with us humans.  As we go through life, very few of us “pack light”.  Instead, we build up perceptions, and memories (both true and false) of how things once were, and amass more baggage than Rose in the movie Titanic!  And then we look backwards while life is screaming “Iceberg! Right ahead!”, and wonder why we keep hitting the damn thing!

A Viking doesn’t do that; a Viking “packs light”.  You cannot sail to the points on the map where it says “Here Be Dragons” while continually looking backwards. If you do, you will summarily be eaten by said dragons!  I’m sure your average, every day real Viking had plenty of regrets, memories, and mental baggage, just like the rest of us humans, but the overriding and very real to them concepts of the Norns, Orlog, and Wyrd kept them looking forward, instead of backwards.  In the mindset of the pre-Christian Norsemen, the past, present, and future were “ruled over” by the Norns: Urd (“What Once Was”), Verdandi (“What Is Coming Into Being”), and Skuld (“What Shall Be”).  Now, their understanding of past, present, and future was not fixed in a linear conception of time like ours; instead, they held a cyclical view of time that included things that had already happened (and, therefore, could not be changed), things that are happening (which can change “on the fly”, as it were), and things that needed to happen (which might change or might not, depending on a combination of past, present, and what we moderns might call “fate”).  Don’t get me wrong here: the past was definitely important to the pre-Christian Norsemen.  Urd (“What Once Was”) served to define who they were in the present moment, and nothing and no one could change that definition, which was based on past actions, past occurrences, past battles, both won and lost (on the battlefield as well as in life).  But they understood wholeheartedly that the past could not be changed, so why focus on continually looking backwards and fondly wishing for a change that could never come?  Urd was (and still is) Orlog: the layers of that which has become, and those layers are set in stoneOrlog cannot be changed anymore than the modern laws of physics. Wyrd, however, can change.  Paul Bauschatz explains in The Well and The Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture that wyrd  “governs the working out of the past into the present (or, more accurately, the working in of the present into the past)”.  In other words, the past doesn’t just influence the present, as we understand things within our modern concept of linear time, the present can also influence the past.  Since the very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result, it therefore makes zero sense to constantly focus on the things that cannot change–by looking backwards, into the past–but much more sense to focus on what can change–by looking at now and looking forwards, into the future.

That does not mean worrying about the future, however! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the difference between the expressions “I dread (fill in the blank)” versus “I am looking forward to (fill in the blank)” , but just in case you need a little extra help with those two concepts, here are their definitions:

dread: anticipate with great anticipation and fear; a strong feeling of fear about something that will or might happen.

look forward to: anticipate eagerly; to expect something with pleasure

Looking forward means going forth in life with exuberant curiosity about what might lay around the next proverbial curve of the river or bend in the proverbial road, as did the Vikings (the “job description”, not the culture, remember!).  The Havamal, the “sayings of the High One” (i.e., Odin All-Father) given to us in the Codex Regius (13th century AD) has this to say about worrying vs. looking forward to:

The witless man is awake all night,
Thinking of many things;
Care-worn he is when the morning comes,
And his woe is just as it was. –Stanza 23

In other words: worrying is stupid (“the witless man”) and a waste of energy that only makes you tired (“care-worn he is when morning comes”), and accomplishes nothing else (“and his woe is just as it was”).  Instead of lying around dreading what’s ahead, or even looking backwards at what’s come before, we should be actively participating in our present, in order to shape our future:

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
But a noble name will never die,
If good renown one gets.

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
One thing now that never dies,
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.–Havamal, Stanzas 77 and 78

Orlog is fixed, that much we’ve already established. Up til now, however, we’ve focused on how that relates to the past. It also relates to the future: it is certain and unchangable that every man will die. (Take it from somebody who knows that a little too well!)  It is what happens between those two fixed points (or, in my case, even after the latter) that matters!  In order to gain a noble name, one must get renown, which requires active participation–getting out there and viking in the verb sense of the term.  In order to be remembered for one’s “famous deeds”, those deeds actually require doing!  Over time (and, I’ll confess, in a lot of ways, I am still learning this), I have come to finally understand that the point of death is not when your physical heart stops beating; it’s when you stop doing things in this world. When you are no longer actively participating in life, whether through constantly looking backwards, or through worrying about forwards, then you are truly dead, whether you’re clinically alive or not.

Choosing to live your life in such a way that you “go where the wind takes you” is clearly not for the faint of heart, but the terms Viking and bravery have become nearly synonymous with one another in our modern world for a reason.  The actual maps of our world may no longer be emblazoned with the words “Here Be Dragons” in many places, but the maps of our lives most definitely are!  We can risk being eaten by said dragons, by losing focus in looking backwards at a past we cannot change or wasting our time worrying about forwards, or we can choose to loose the sails of the present and actively participate in battling those dragons (and fjording those streams!), like Sigurd battling Fafnir in the Volsunga Saga.  I choose the latter.

I’ve decided to become a Viking.  I’m not wasting my time looking back anymore; I’m not going that way.  Nor am I going to continue to lie awake at night, like the witless man in the Havamalworrying about forwards.  I am a man living between two harbors–Salem and Boston–who is striking forth daily on an adventure: the adventure of life!  And I will sail upriver bravely, no matter how strong the current; I will viking (the verb) every day, no matter the strain, or the pain. Because if there are deeds to be remembered, first I must do them; if there is renown to be gotten, first I must get it.  So long as we’re all still doing–still actively participating in life–we’re not dead yet, and it is high time I stopped living like a ghost, and sailed forward as the man that I am.

 

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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!