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Posts Tagged ‘Heavy Metal’

In preparation for my year of Druid candidate training, I have been trying to get into the habit of meditating. So far, I’ve only been working on color breathing and training my concentration, using the suggested meditation target (from John Michael Greer‘s Druidry Handbook):

Meditation Target

The process has been fascinating and enlightening. Although I find my mind wandering behind my back, slipping away for me only to realize it a few minutes later, I’m always able to round up my thoughts and walk back along the path that took me to where I found them, and bring my conscious mind back to the Moon-target where I can simply be. I realize that the aim here is to develop concentration in preparation for discursive meditation later on (which I want to be able to begin right away with Samhainn), but the effortless effort spent being completely present to the image I am concentrating on is nevertheless very zenlike, and I find myself having the same sort of physical and mental sensations (a sort of trancelike, not-unpleasant feeling of fraying at the edges of my existence) as I did with zen meditation back when I was giving that a go.

Also, it’s amazing how good I feel after meditating–positively euphoric. Fifteen quick minutes leaves me completely energized and focused, and it goes a long way to calming the anxiety and depression that my own personal brand of crazy inflicts on me. I’m looking forward to learning and practicing discursive meditation, but I think I will ultimately want to mix in something more zenlike, and maybe explore Indian techniques like Kunalindi yoga to supplement my Western, Druidic approach.

I’m interested in exploring moving meditation, specifically trying to achieve a meditative state while running. Usually while I run I either listen to heavy metal at unsafe volumes on my headphones (which is not necessarily not conducive to a calm state of mind…) or I just let my mind completely wander, but i have an intuition that a kind of physical meditation should be workable. I’m just not necessarily sure how I would go about it.

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Blogging from a heavy metal concert between sets is infinitely cooler than blogging from FAIR or Sunstone.

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So, a rule of thumb might be that if you’re just about to go to heaven and you accidentally read an evil black book that casts you down to hell and there’s this terrible evil tower that reaches maybe almost back up to heaven but not quite, and you get up to the top by mostly pure luck, you probably shouldn’t rely on said evil book to get you the last little bit.

Because it won’t work.  It will trick you and you will turn into a demon or something.  Of course, if you wanted to become a demon, then by all means, go ahead.  That’s really the moral of the story here.  The other moral of the story is that Ronnie James Dio is fucking awesome.

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I have no time to do much of anything but study for the bar exam. That is why my blog appears to have died, except for the weird dumb argument raging with the RLDS guy in the Book of Mormon thread. Seriously, the bar exam is dominating my life, and it utterly sucks. I am so tired of studying. Also, I am afraid I am going to fail (curse you, lyme disease!).

Bar exam’s in nine days. After I’m done with it, i will start blogging again. For now it is only study, study, study.

On a completely different note, I saw an ad on the Metro this morning for two days of heavy metal concerts in August, with Judas Priest, Whitesnake, and Heaven and Hell. I want to go. I hope the tickets are not expensive.

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Inspired by Katie Langston (her blog is blocked right now so no linky) and my beautiful and sexy wife Katyjane, I am going to compose a list of fifty things I absolutely love.

1. Katyjane
2. Beer
3. Led Zeppelin
4. Jim Morrison (I would lick his torso)
5. Eating pancakes with my three-year old
6. I Walk The Line
7. The Cthulhu Mythos
8. Heavy metal concerts
9. MRE cheese and crackers
10. Getting a good night’s sleep
11. A Ford Mustang convertible
12. Tarot
13. Talking about religion
14. Trust and estate law
15. Iron Maiden
16. Battlestar Galactica
17. Conan
18. Pretty much everything written by C. S. Lewis
19. Road trips with katyjane
20. Cowboy boots
21. Rattlesnake-skin cowboy boots
22. The way I feel after I go running
23. All Along The Watchtower (the Hendrix version)
24. Mythology
25. Being outside
26. Laying down in the grass with someone I love
27. A clean house
28. Honeysuckle
29. London
30. Black Hawk Down
31. “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
32. Rick Hurd
33. Wolverine
34. Riding my bike, when I am wearing my awesome socks with flames on them
35. The last thirty minutes of The Road Warrior
36. Alaska
37. Tattoos
38. The Episcopal Church
39. Feudalism
40. Enabling my wife to buy unreasonable amounts of yarn
41. When my one-year-old daughter says “happy happy happy”
42. Grapheme-color synesthesia
43. Autumn
44. Goya (the artist, not the brand of food)
45. Going out to eat
46. When my wife beats me at video games
47. Thanksgiving
48. Giving money to panhandlers
49. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
50. My big fat evil vicious cat

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I referred to myself as a pagan in conversation with my beautiful and sexy wife a few days ago (we were talking about piddly, meaningless stuff like the meaning of life), and she recognized the significance: it was a casual but meaningful declaration of spiritual identity of the kind that I have not been able to make in years.

It wasn’t just a slip, either. I have been thinking about this and I came to an important realization. One of the issues I have been grappling with in the background of my mind is if at the end of the day I basically think that religion and spirituality are highly subjective and have more to do with assigning meaning to human existence than they do with making objective truth-claims about the universe, why shouldn’t I have just stayed Mormon? Wouldn’t it have been easier, after all, for me to just figure out how to reconcile the religion I was raised with than to try to blaze a completely new spiritual trail? My gut rebels against the idea of staying Mormon, but why? I think Mormonism’s truth-claims are bogus, but that’s not really the issue for me (except it kind of is, because Mormonism spends a lot of time and spiritual effort insisting that its truth claims are literal truth). I have problems with the Church as an institution, but a lot of liberal and New Order Mormons figure out ways to deal with that, and the insistence of the orthodox believer notwithstanding, my relationship with the organizational church should not really affect how I feel about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, right?

So why do I feel like remaining Mormon, or going back to Mormonism, would just be unacceptable? I think it is because I never really internalized Mormonism in the first place. Sure, I internalized some ways of thinking about religion because I didn’t know any better–some cultural transmission from my parent subculture is inevitable–but in a spiritual sense, I was always torn and doubtful about Mormonism and I was always drawn to mythology, the gods, and the spiritual power of the wild places of the earth. As a little kid I was obsessed with mythology. As a young adolescent I stayed awake all night with my best friend on Boy Scout camp-outs talking about Beltaine. As a teenager I flat-out just wanted to be a druid. As a young adult I was absolutely enthralled by Joseph Campbell, the Arthurian romances, Celtic myth, and the cosmic and spiritual significance of poetry and literature.

Yes, when I was nineteen, I “got a testimony” and went on a mission, and began to live a fairly orthodox Mormon life. But let’s not give my conversion too much credit. The coercive pressure from my family was immense-it was made clear to me that being an adult meant setting aside childish things like entertaining the possibility of paganism, and taking Mormonism seriously as the One True Religion. People I trusted and relied on made it absolutely clear that there was no viable moral alternative, that anything less than fully getting with the program meant personal weakness, laziness, and a lack of integrity. So I did what I was supposed to.

But the pagan inside me did not sleep too soundly. As a young adult I was captured by the power of Norse myth, by the dynamic majesty of romantic-era classical music (I discovered Sibelius, and it was love), and ultimately by the brutal, mythic energy of heavy metal.

On top of this, I have noticed a clear pattern in my life: when I have lived out of touch with nature, I have been depressed, unbalanced, and extremely mentally unhealthy. Proximity and involvement with the natural world are simply things I need for spiritual wholeness. And I have consistently had feelings about love, the feminine, and sex that have been reverent, passionate, and worshipful.

The point is, I have been a pagan all along. It doesn’t matter that I went to sacrament meeting every week. It doesn’t matter that I spent two years as a missionary trying to convert people to Mormonism. Mormonism never really fit. My mother and I had countless discussions and arguments about religion and point of view: in her mind the right thing to do was to completely internalize Mormonism, and subvert your entire mind to it, to relinquish all non-Mormon thought as something unwelcome and alien. I always wanted to take the point of view of an outsider, because I always was an outsider.

I was a pagan, and I always have been.

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Two stories, both of which I have told before:

1. Last fall, I had a kind of spiritual upset after seeing Amon Amarth and Ensiferum in concert at Jaxx in Northern Virginia. I realized that the Christianity I had been flirting with didn’t really punch all of the spiritual buttons that I felt needed to be pushed. There was (and is) something about mythology and my ancestry and heritage that boils in my blood–something that means more than a hobby-interest. Something there resonates as Truth and Meaning. Anyway, I was in this frame of mind, and thinking about Asatru again, and the Norse gods (even listening to Ravencast), and kind of wishing I could have an experience with the Norse gods. One day, on the way to school, I got on the Metro and there was this smallish white-bearded old man with a fedora and an eyepatch. I am sorry to report that was too chicken to approach him and ask him if he was the All-Father. I thought it was just silly at the time: “haha, a guy that looks just like Odin, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if that wasn’t a brush with something bigger. Right there, on the red line on the DC Metro.

2. Last November, when I first started thinking seriously about Hellenic polytheism, I was reading about Dionysus in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and listening to the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, when I had this intense spiritual epiphany. All of a sudden, it all seemed so real. Dionysus was suddenly incredibly vivid, and incredibly significant. The total effect was a bit overwhelming and incredibly powerful. I had this sensation of Dionysus’s massive divine presence, something holy but out of control, like a spiritual hurricane.

So in other words, I have arguably had two different encounters with gods on the red line. I wonder if there is something special about the Metro. It is, after all, a place between worlds: the subway is its own little environment that moves between other environments–different neighborhoods, even different states in the DC area. It is a liminal place, a world between worlds, a halfway world that exists in different worlds while also maintaining its own existence. It is more than a vehicle, because it is like a room that you can move around in, like a place as much as it is a thing. I wonder if the liminal nature of the Metro makes it into a place where gods can more easily come through and enter the world of humans? Or perhaps it is that the Metro puts my mind into a liminal state, which makes it more receptive to the gods and their emissaries. I wonder if it’s just me, or if other people have had significant divine or spiritual encounters on trains or subways?

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As a little kid in elementary school, I was obsessed with Greek mythology.  In high school I branched out into Celtic and Arthurian lore, and then in college I fell in love with Vikings and Norse mythology, but the pattern is fairly consistent: for most of my life, myth and legend have resonated strongly and deeply with me, and I mostly haven’t known what to do about it.  To emphasize, this stuff has hit me deep, much more so than just cool stories.  I felt there was a transcendent truth to mythology–especially the mythology of my genealogical and cultural ancestors.

As a Mormon, the best reconciliation for this was that the world’s mythologies contain truth but in a corrupted form.  All nations in the world can trace their ancestry back to Adam and Eve, in other words to someone who knew the truth of the gospel, and thus their religion and lore contained bits and fragments of Eternal Truth.  This is a decent attempt at reconciliation, but never really flew for me, especially since myth and legend worked its magic on me on a deep, primal level that Mormonism never could reach.

C. S. Lewis attempted a similar reconciliation in Miracles by claiming that these myths, especially inasmuch as they had parallels or thematic similarities to Christianity, were a kind of “good dream,” sent by God as a kind of mental preparation for the message of Jesus Christ.  This makes a lot of sense in the larger context of Lewis’s work, since he gives a lot of credit to the wisdom of our pagan ancestors and feels that it is applicable to Christianity.  More than once he claims that you can’t convert someone from atheism to Christianity, but that you have to learn to be a good pagan before you can learn to be a good Christian.  That works better for me than the Mormon version, but since I still have significant problems with Christianity, the need to reconcile the two sort of fades away over time.

Since leaving Mormonism and trying to figure out what I really do believe, I have gone back and forth because I have to reconcile a lot of different values, interests, and spiritual feelings that are not necessarily tied together in a neat package.  This came to a head last fall when I went to see Amon Amarth and Ensiferum in concert.  At the time I had been mentally committed to Christianity for awhile–I was doing my best to figure out how to proceed as a Christian even though progress was sort of slow and fumbling.  But I went to this overtly pagan heavy metal show, and it reached deep and struck those primal chords that are always compelled by myth and legend.  I walked away form the concert deeply confused and troubled, because here I was trying to be a Christian, when paganism is, at least spiritually speaking, so much more compelling to me.

So I was left muddled for a bit.  The viable options seemed like continuing on with (probably Episcopal) Christianity, AODA Druidry (still), and some kind of pagan reconstructionism.  The problem with all of them was that I had different reasons to find them all compelling to different extents, but none of them had provided me with an experience that was sufficiently Dionysian to make me want to commit spiritually.  Even my romance with mythology was not concrete or well-formed enough to compel me to some kind of spiritual action and/or commitment.  It was just another inconsistent piece of the puzzle–something that seemed really important but I didn’t know what to do with it.

In particular, the concert left me thinking about Ásatrú and Germanic neopagan reconstructionism generally.  There was something there that reached me spiritually, but for some reason, I couldn’t get my head into a place where I felt comfortable saying “this is my spiritual path.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that 1. it just seemed too much like LARPing, and I wanted to have a real, relevant spiritual direction, not to play Viking, and 2. as compelling as I found it, I just… didn’t really believe in the existence of the Norse gods.

Then a series of epiphanies hapened, that have resulted in monumental change in the way I think about religion.  First, my wife and I watched Battlestar Galactica through again, starting with the miniseries.  The human refugees in the show believe in the “Lords of Kobol,” which, at least in the reimagined series, are the Greek gods–they actually pray to Athena, Zeus, and Ares, and it doesn’t seem strange.  What I am saying is that thei belief in the Greek gods did not seem anachronistic.  It opened my eyes to a kind of ongoing universality to those gods–as a western person, the Greek gods are so embedded in my heritage that it was plausible to see the Colonial survivors believe in them and worship them without it seeming inconsistent or like they were playing Ancient Greek.

In particular I was struck by one scene, in the miniseries, where Starbuck quietly prays to idols of Athena and Aphrodite.  There was something so genuine and authentic about it, and so spiritual and intimate, that it really touched me, and set wheels in motion–maybe the Greek gods have a relevance to me that–as cool as I think they are–the Norse gods don’t?  It made me curious, at least, to look into it more, which led to my next powerful epiphany.

I was on the subway reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and listening to my iPod.  For the most part, Hamilton is kind of dry, but when I came to the chapter on Dionysus, there was something about the writing that seemed, I don’t know, different somehow.  Out of nowhere, the book grew vivid, compelling, vibrant, and relevant to me.  And then my iPod–on shuffle–started to play the Passacaglia from Battlestar Galactica’s soundtrack.  The combination of the two did something to me.  It was like it moved me into another state of consciousness, almost a trance.  I felt a closeness to Dionysus, I felt his reality.  I could tell you what he smells like, even.  I can feel in my mind what it is like to be in the presence of this god and physically touch him.  It was amazing.  It left my head reeling.

For the next several months I just kind of let that stew.  It was important to me, but I wasn’t sure what t do about it.  I started pouring out libations to Dionysus, and even to some of the other Greek gods, and it seemed fitting and proper. But I wasn’t engaged in any actual practice other than that, and putting together a playlist of songs (including the Passacaglia) that were particularly evocative of divinity in general and of Dionysus in specific.

The next, and perhaps the most significant event happened months later, about five or six weeks ago.  Iw as studying for a Tax exam and I was letting myself get distracted.  My experience with Dionysus had me looking a little more into Hellenic polytheism, mostly courtesy of executivepagan‘s blogroll, and I was thinking about the involvement of the gods in my life, what gods seemed more real than others, and what gods wereparticularly relevant to me.  I was thinking about war gods actually.  I’m an infantryman in the Army National Guard, and so warfare is a significant factor in my life.  The main war gods of the Greeks were Ares, not a very well-liked or sympathetic god, and Athena, who despite the fact that I am a law student and part-time soldier, just doesn’t seem real or accessible to me.  I was reading about Aphrodite, who I had had in mind recently in terms of love, romance, and sex in my relationship with my beautiful and sexy wife, and I came across something interesting: there is a warlike aspect to Aphrodite.  Some of her names include “well-armed,” “warlike,” and “bringer of victory.”  The more I thought about this aspect of Aphrodite, the more excited I became.

What happened next was nothing short of amazing.  My excitement built and built, overflowing the boundaries into a kind of rolling epiphany, and from there it kept exploding inside me until it was full-blown euphoria.  I felt the presence of a goddess.  It was like being high, and it wasn’t fleeting or momentary; it lasted for hours before it finally subsided.  It was like falling in love with a deity–it felt so warm and my pulse was racing and it was all I could think about.  It was classical mystical euphoria–the paradigmatic experience of divinity.  It was the thing I had been waiting for, and it happened to me.

So there I am.  The way forward is not necessarily obvious to me: I can think of a lot of different possible ramifications for these experiences, and I intend to write a post about them later.  But I have had vivid spiritual experiences with these gods, this wasn’t the kind of “spiritual experience” I had grown so skeptical of because of my history with Mormonism.  I wasn’t trying to provoke these; I wasn’t dead set on feeling something, looking for any emotional condition that I could ascribe a spiritual dimension to.  These came almost out of nowhere.  These were surprises that I was neither looking for nor expecting.

The end result is that I not only believe in god, but I believe in gods.

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I promised myself that I would stop going around and around with religion and getting nowhere with it, but it looks like it was a promise in vain. I went to see Amon Amarth and Ensiferum in concert last week, and it set me thinking about Ásátru again, catching me at a time when I was feeling frustrated with Christianity. So I’ve been thinking about O∂in, and reading a bit in the Eddas, and I’ve been thinking about the Nine Noble Virtues.

O∂in is a fascinating and complex deity. There’s a penetrating, haunting quality to him that I can’t easily set aside, and if I were to pick out a patron deity from world mythology, he would unquestionably be the one. I’ve even considered getting a tattoo of O∂in riding Sleipnir, his eight-legged horse, on my calf. I feel like it will make me run faster…

I’ve been reading the Prose Edda, and I have to say that Norse mythology is all very compelling stuff for me. On top of that, many aspects of modern Ásátru are extremely appealing, in particular the focus on kindred and community, and the Nine Noble Virtues. I think the Virtues compose a realistic and admirable ethical system. They are qualities that the world is generally in desperate need of, but at the same time they seem actually attainable (as opposed to Jesus’s moral teachings, which can be seen as setting an unrealistic and therefore impossible standard of perfection).

Ásátru’s norms also would fit well with my increasingly conservative (for want of a better word, but I most certainly don’t mean Republican) mindset.  The focus on kinship, oaths, property, and family ties is as appealing to me as is the focus on generosity and hospitality.  Or perhaps their appeal can’t be looked at separately: the whole package of Ásátru values is what I find appealing.  The fact that I have extended my enlistment in the National Guard, and am finally enjoying being in the military again, also plays a role.

Unfortunately, my reasons to not be an Ásátruar have not really changed since the last time I seriously gave it some thought. I’m not necessarily sure what to do with all of this. I like the idea of Ásátru, but realistically, I can’t see myself identifying as such. Maybe when I’m feeling particularly viking-y, but not the rest of the time. So really it comes down to this: I have to figure out what to do with these strong feelings I have about O∂in and Norse mythology, since actually converting to Ásátru is just probably not the direction I am going to go. That is, barring some sort of mystical experience or prophetic dream sending me that way.

For the record, Amon Amarth is kind of dorky-cartoon-viking but I like them and they put on an excellent show. Especially when they came out and did Cry Of The Black Birds as an encore. Ensiferum was absolutely amazing though, and I plan on procuring everything they have recorded (especially the stuff from when Jari Mäenpää was still with them–it will tide me over until Wintersun‘s new CD comes out). I bought Dragonheads, a short EP-style CD from Ensiferum, and it is fantastic. I also bought an Amon Amarth t-shirt, which I love.

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This is fun.  I’m kind of tired of writing essentially the same angst-ridden religion blog posts anyway.  I kind of wonder if it’s not time to either 1. expand the scope of this blog to start talking about other things, or 2. start a new general-purpose blog.  I have one over at Blogspot, but I don’t like Blogspot, and I haven’t kept up with it in a really long time and don’t really feel like starting it up again.  It’s mostly politics anyway, and I’m just not the angry fiery liberal I used to be.  Anyway, here’s today’s ten:

  1. “Cry of the Black Birds” – Amon Amarth
  2. “Ancestor Cult” – Machines of Loving Grace
  3. “Caleb” – Sonata Arctica
  4. “Learning to Live” – Dream Theater
  5. “Kullervo’s Youth” – Jean Sibelius
  6. “Any Colour You Like” – Pink Floyd
  7. “Little Lies” – Fleetwood Mac
  8. “Amazing” – Aerosmith
  9. “House of Sleep” – Amorphis
  10. “Move Over Darling” – Doris Day

This seems more representative of what I’m listening to right now, except for the random Aerosmith song, not a particular favorite of mine.

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