At some point in your teen years, you come to the realization that you want everyone to like you. You might be willing to change your clothes, your interests, the kinds of music you listen to, in hopes that you’ll become more palatable to the peers you’ve decided matter the most to you. For some people, this feeling never goes away, and they spend their lives doing whatever they can to show the peer group they wish to be integrated with that they are already a member – just look at the car they drive, or the hobbies they engage in, or the way they dress.
There are others; there are those who make the harder decision to just stick to whatever they like, and they don’t really care if all the cliques ignore them or make fun of them. In the digital age, it’s likely they can find friends and like-minded fellows via the Internet, which has made it a little easier to walk the road of the iconoclast.
When the late teens/early 20’s hit, all of a sudden it becomes much more appealing to be your own person. There is a struggle between wanting to be a unique little snowflake, but still be a part of a pack. Your world gets a little larger, and it becomes a tiny bit easier to find fellow weirdos who are your flavor of weirdo. You feel more free to break away from the behaviors of “childhood” and explore.
My life followed that pattern to some degree. I definitely stuck out in high school – I was fat, red headed, geeky, poor, and Christian (and not “wear a cross”, but “go to church several times a week, teach Sunday School, and lead retreats for other high school students”). I didn’t really fit in anywhere. However, over time, I found that I had enough charisma to attract other students who had their own odd interests, and we became our own clique. It wasn’t until I had graduated high school and was talking to a friend that she forced me to realize I had been “popular”. I always thought of the preppy kids as being the “popular” ones, and I was far from that. However, that’s not the real definition of popularity – it’s having a lot of friends and acquaintances. And that, I had.
In my 20’s, I played with identity. You can look at pictures from various portions of that decade and be astonished it was the same person. I had a grungy butch dyke phase, a gothy SM phase, a “ooh I’m a witch” phase, and a geeky gamer phase. There are threads of uniqueness that you can trace through each identity, but I had different friends and engaged in different hobbies and dated different kinds of people, depending on whatever crowd I had integrated into.
By the time I reached my 30’s, I had already started to find those threads, those parts of Del that had lasted throughout the different hairstyles and music collections, and began building something that was a little bit of all of it. No one would call me a goth today, but I do fancy black clothing and can still be found rocking out to The Cure, NIN, or Marilyn Manson. I’m not really involved in LGBTQ community, although to say I’m not queer would be a gross misjudgment. I don’t wear giant pentacles and go by some spooky sounding name (like, oh, “Wintersong”), but let’s have a laugh together at the assumption that my Pagan beliefs aren’t an intrinsic part of how I move in the world. And although I haven’t LARPed or rolled dice around a table for friends for quite some time, I still tell war stories and make geeky references with the best of them. It’s all become a part of a much more diverse, multifaceted person.
Now, I revisit this concept of Del-as-rock star. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, lately I have had this title lobbed at me in both positive and negative ways. I’ve been accused of being a leader of some “cool kids club” that is snarky and hard to penetrate, and I’ve been praised for having a stellar reputation that brings fun and dynamism into anywhere I show my face. So don’t think this is some ego-stroke I’m giving myself here – I am actually more interested in talking about the part of rock stardom that most people miss.
See, when you see a musical act in concert, 90% of the audience are people who are self-selected “fans” of that person or group. Maybe 50% of them have all the albums, the tee shirts, the memorabilia, the magazine photos, etc. Some may be more casual, owning a couple of mp3s and like their stuff on the radio/MySpace/YouTube. And then there are the 10% who are there because their lover brought them, or because they just wanted to go out and have a drink and found out a band was playing, or who heard a single song on the radio or caught a video of the group and are a little curious.
However, the part we miss is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are doing other things. They’re at the mall, or driving cross country, or playing tennis, or watching television. If you play that act’s music around them, they will curse at you and cover their ears and maybe even throw things at the source of their torture. Maybe they hate them so much that they visit websites that have conversations about how much they hate the band, or even actively protest them when the come into town.
I saw this a lot when I was a more active Marilyn Manson fan. There were protesters at just about every concert I attended – some with great big signs alerting us to the fact that Manson was the devil, or the quiet everyman handing out flyers about a Christian rock show next weekend in hopes that we would convert through music. There were sometimes altercations between fans and protesters that were violent enough to need police action.
I’ve only been actively picketed once, and it wasn’t really me as much as something I was a part of. But that’s a different story for a different day. However, I do have anti-fans. I have people who think I’m ridiculous, or actively hurting people, or a sham, or some combination of all of that. There are those who accuse me of appropriation, those who say that I use my social cache in the Pagan community for my financial benefit, those who think the sorts of spiritual things I engage in are bad, wrong, damaging, egotistical, narcissistic, or outright fraudulent.
Let me make that plain for you – there are people that are to me what the Westboro Baptist Church is to…well, everything fun.
Most of the ire I receive these days comes from my association with my close friend and colleague Raven Kaldera. Sometimes it’s transference – just because I’m not actively against him, therefore I must be exactly like him – which isn’t the case, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I do credit him with giving me a lot of direction and courage when I was first coming to terms with my role as a shaman and spirit worker, and he continues to be someone I consult with on a regular basis. I contribute to his books, I assist him with rituals, and I’ve taught classes at his events and for his Church.
What amuses me is that some people go so far as to think if Raven told me to jump, my feet would leave the ground of their own volition. This is not the case. There are lots of areas in which I disagree with Raven, and he’s aware of most of them. We are very different people who are called to very different kinds of service to community, and we have had very different spiritual experiences that brought us to where we are today. There are times he says or does things and all I can do is put my head in my hands. There are other times I have been proud to have been a part of something he has done.
In a slightly wider accusation, I am sometimes called “a Cauldron Farm person”. This is so ridiculous as to be factually incorrect. Cauldron Farm is not an organization, not a cult (as some have posited), not some secret club with handshakes and decoder rings. Cauldron Farm is a place of residence in western Massachusetts. It would be physically impossible for me to be a “Cauldron Farm person”, as I live in Maryland, hundreds of miles away. However, that’s not what the people who use that phrase actually mean.
There is a loose collective of spirit workers who mostly reside along the East Coast who frequently correspond via the Internet, refer clients to each other, work together on projects, and who generally lend emotional support to each other. There is no real name for this group, as it’s more of a clique than anything else. There used to be a gathering at Cauldron Farm where we used to get together once a year and chew the professional fat, but it’s been years since there’s been one. However, since there is no official name for this clique, many have taken to the “Cauldron Farm people” phrase as a way to refer to us as a whole.
What’s hilarious to those inside the clique is how much we don’t get along, how many of us do not like Raven or think his whole “Kingdom” thing is a little silly. Suffice it to say we have as much or more drama than any other medium-sized social clique with little more than a profession in common usually has. So to think and refer to us as a unit is amusing, since we rarely act like one.
So that’s one way in which I have serious detractors.
There are others in the Pagan and Heathen communities who disapprove of me because my practice is heavily steeped in UPG. That is, I trust my own intuition and my communication with the Gods as much or more than I trust historical or academic documents written about how the Gods I worship and work with/for were interacted with back when they had adherents. Don’t get me wrong, I do a lot of research and reading about my practice – not just the historical records of how people who interact with the same Gods I do (which, I’d like to point out, aren’t all Norse in origin) – but also those who engaged in the same kinds of spiritual Work that I do. I’ve read about the use of ordeal in spiritual and religious communities from around the world, about rites of passage, about mysticism, about the use of rhythm, about trance, and even about the neurobiology of spiritual experiences. Because my Gods don’t limit themselves from one source, I do not look to only one source for my inspiration.
This brings a lot of disdain from those who do spend a great deal of time trying to accurately recreate the kinds of practices that were used when the Gods we worship in common were more actively worshiped. This is not my personal philosophy at all, so it would make no sense for me to do that, and I’m not very sorry about that, either. I believe my Gods as I experience them are alive and active in the World, and although They may not understand every human nuance and invention, they do not need ancient languages and outdated rites in order to be an intrinsic part of my modern experience. Maybe that’s something they ask of others, and I support those for whom academic research is one of the ways their spirituality manifests. That’s just not my thing, so to speak.
Before anything – before being a Loki’s person, or a spirit worker, or an ordeal master, or a mystic – my belief is rooted in the idea of the imminence of Deity. That is, that the Gods are alive and active in the world today, and They are just as happy having Iphones named after Them than They were having important farming tools dedicated to Them. If this makes me a heretic, then so be it. I’ll play my electric guitar while you build an historically accurate instrument from the 1200’s and play that.
I don’t make any claim that what I have to say about the Gods I work with or the ritual I create have any basis in history, and in fact I usually make it clear to the people I serve that the opposite is true. If being honest about how I believe the Gods move in the world makes me a fraud, then I am a proud fraud.
After all, in the end, I only have these concerns:
-am I obedient to my Gods?
-am I living my faith as I understand it?
-am I serving the communities who seek me out for my service faithfully?
-am I at peace with the choices I make, both in my mundane life as well as in my spiritual one?
-when I die, am I ready to answer for the choices I made in life?
-am I enriching people’s lives with the services I offer them?
If I can say yes to all of those, then I am doing the very best I can to live my spirituality to the fullest. It doesn’t matter if only one person, or hundreds of thousands of people, disagree with me and want to call me names on the Internet. It doesn’t matter if there are whole forums set up to denigrate my name. It doesn’t matter if I am constantly followed around by “yes men” who tell me how great and awesome I am, so as to crowd out any negativity. I know in my heart, I am doing what the Gods want me to do, to the best of my ability to discern it.
And really, that’s all I can ask of anyone. If you are doing what your Gods want of you, then there should be no reason for jealousy, or to attack others because they’re doing it differently than you’d like them to, or differently than you. The people of Earth need all kinds of spiritual guidance, in millions of different ways, and so the people I serve aren’t going to be the people you serve, anyway. Even with someone who is supposedly very alike me, Raven and I have had very little crossover in people who have sought us out.
Honestly, I would be doing something wrong if everyone I knew agreed with me all of the time. It means I’m not making bold choices, I’m not pushing myself to the deepest and darkest places I can go. If I’m offering bland, neutral, dispassionate spiritual services, who is going to want that? They are drawn to me specifically because I have worked hard to be excellent at what I do, and because I am unafraid to live the life and do the work that has been set before me, regardless of what people may think of me for it. After all, in my mundane life, it’s not like I’m some average joe wearing khakis and doing brunch on the weekends, either.
So I am at peace with the fact that I will always have detractors. I will always have people who think what I do is bad, wrong, awful, hurtful, damaging. I will have people who will pass me by on the side of the road and laugh at my misfortune. I will have people who are happy when my medical situation worsens, because it means I’m closer to death. I’m totally okay with that, because it means I’m doing something right.