Monday, July 16, 2018

Collaborating Kinnish

Historically; several of my large mistakes have all fit into a common theme I like to call "Misplacement." For example, I have repeatedly misplaced my trust in the wrong people. Moreover, I have repeatedly misplaced the credit for my successes.

Over the years I have started several different Initiatives. A Coven, a Religious Tradition, a Prison Ministry, a Correctional Chaplains Association, a brick and mortar Community Church and Seminary, and several private Social and Fraternal Organizations. (Holy shit it really sounds like a lot when I stop to list them all)

My point is that these past initiatives were products of my own original ideas and concepts. I designed and developed them, I started them, I funded them, and I lead them. But when I spoke, I always said "We" not "Me." We have come a long way. We have put in a lot of work. We should be proud of what We have built. When the simple truth is that I did all the work, and everyone watched and nodded.

My main reason for sharing credit for what I viewed, at the time, as success was my aversion to ego. I didn't want it to become the JOE SHOW. I didn't want to become a cult leader. So, I shared everything with everyone, except the work. 

To my own credit, I tried. 

Cult leader create followers, I wanted to create more leaders. But people are lazy, and I love the work, so on and on WE went, until I finally came to my senses and walked away. 

Which is why none of those initiatives still exist. Because I chose to walk away. The only failure was in my ability to keep repeating those same mistakes. #positivefailure #lessonlearned

 Flash forward.

As I mentioned in the previous post, it's been a year and ten days since I Broke Kinnish, and so much has happened since then. The most significant has been the establishment of the first Kinnish Community, a Commonwealth. This past weekend we gathered to celebrate the second child born into our commonwealth with a naming ceremony; also, to celebrate the Taking of Land by the parents, and to recognize their new home as the fifth Hof in our community. 

A community that shares responsibility. a community in which each Hof takes its turn hosting a gathering, Hospitality; and each member contributes to the feast and the funds. A community that has told me "we don't you paying for that out of your own pocket, the commonwealth has money for that."

I may have begun laying a foundation, but there is now a whole a community, building itself. I may have Broken Kinnish, but it is no longer up to me alone to say what comes next. From here on, we are collaborating Kinnish.

I am Vaknir, and We are many.    

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Establishing Kinnish

When you stop to consider how important communication is, you would think that we would be better at it by now. Yet effective communication continues to elude us more often than we would like to admit. I personally believe that the single greatest cause of miscommunication is a simple matter of definitions. 

Perhaps this is because, while we may share a language and a vocabulary, we don't have the same definitions for the words we share. For years I have strongly encouraged the students attending my lectures to ask each of the other lecturers on the topic to define words like Wicca, Magic, or Paganism.

Because the truth is that there are several thousand people who identify as Wiccans and Pagans. Yet they cannot collectively agree on a definition for either one. Because it means so many different things to so many different people.

As a prison chaplain I found that it was an absolute necessity to be able to clearly define and explain terms, conditions and standards in order to function in the state and federal correctional systems. And to that end, I drafted and employed a definition of Paganism as:

"An umbrella term used to indicate an association with a large and diverse group, of predominantly but not exclusively, Indigenous European based traditions of religious beliefs and spiritual practices." While some would say it was the best they had ever heard, there were always those who would still venomously condemn me for try to define Paganism, for them. 

How dare I.

But the truth was that I was not attempting to define terms for them. I was taking a definitive stance, for me. So that I could function effectively within a system that required definitive stances. 

Heathenry; as it turns out, is no different.

Long story short. It was this very issue of defining Heathen terms such as "Folkish." which first started me down this path of Breaking Kinnish, to invent a whole new word, and publish post after post, clearly and methodically defining that word, under no uncertain terms.

Well several important developments have occurred in the short year that I have been establishing Kinnish. First, people started agreeing with me, and my own Kinsmen started identifying themselves as Kinnish Heathens.

Sometime later; due to a combination of geographic isolation from the other branches of our kindred, and personal philosophical differences; most of the members of our branch, fell from the tree. And from that fallen branch the Vaknir Kinnish Commonwealth was born. 

We're a new kind of Heathenry.

And if you like what you've been reading about Kinnish so far, you're going to love what's coming next.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Individuating Kinnish

Once again the Web in my little corner of the Wyrd has dramatically unraveled and is reweaving itself anew. The last time my Wyrd shifted this much I had just come home from Iraq to find my family, my marriage and my home in complete ruin.

But the brutal truth is that my life really wasn't all the great, and the that secret to the success of my marriage was that I was always gone. In hindsight I realize that all the critical life changing events were just the "Labor Pains" necessary to give birth to a whole new life. 

This one. The one that I have been living for the past thirteen years. But as I said, it's being renovating, again. But rather than just skipping forward to where I am now, I want to continue telling the story of how I got here in my own Forrest Gump-ish way.

So. A late last fall my Friend and Kinsmen drafted a new set of bylaws for our Kindred. The Mason in me took a special interest in the topic and great pleasure in fruits of his labor. 

One of the biggest ironies in Paganism has always been the Pagan community's desire for recognition; to be taken seriously, despite the fact that the majority of them don't take themselves seriously. A good gauge of any organization is its legal documents, and the bylaws are always a good place to start. 

Does it read like a Stoned-Hippie-Manifesto? Or does it read like an authentic and mature legal document? Is it appropriately framed and formatted? Does it contain the common core legal vernacular? Does it focus on the legal issues which define its actual purpose? Or does it hyper-focus on establishing the identity of the group and its fervent dedication to "the gods?"

My Kinsmen's draft was designed to meet legal necessity and only contains the criteria necessary to meet those needs. Among the various pleasantries it contained, I found one particular facet to be a revelation. 

The division of authority. 

Most Pagan groups operate under the authority of a Supreme Leader, usually a High Priest or Priestess or some other "Grand Poobah" like title. This usually happens for one of two or more reasons; 1. the Grand Poobah (GP) established and maintains absolute control, or 2. the GP can't get anyone else to step up and share in the responsibility. 

As a former cult leader myself, I can say from personal experience that brainwashing people into thinking for themselves is hard as fuck because most people are lazy and prefer to be spoon fed. They are quick to turn over personal authority, and responsibility, to a spiritual leader like the GP and in return the GP has an obligation to meet their spiritual needs. 

Yeah, fuck that.

These bylaws took the standardize Heathen GP Gothi  leadership construct and divided the church from the state. A chief and a gothi, each with their own areas of authority and responsibilities. One to lead the group, one to provide religious services. 

There is a distinction to be made. 

One hat per head. Because religious training, experience and credentials does not quality someone in any or all other roles. Anyone who has been a Grand Poobah knows how draining it can be doing the work of Priest, President, Secretary, Treasurer, Organizer, Host and Custodian. 

Also because being in an organizational dictatorship with a less-than-grand-poobah can really suck ass. 

The Kinnish community organizational structure is a Commonwealth, like a republic. Our Commonwealth is composed of citizens who represent and/or are affiliated with a Hof (house). 

The commonwealth is governed by an Althing, a board of directors composed of citizens who have been elected for a limited-term to serve as leaders in key areas of responsibility similar to a president, chaplain, secretary, treasurer, sergeant at arms, etc.

The people are the leadership. Not the person.
  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Innovating Kinnish II


That last post was running a little longer than expected. So I decided to stop where I did and take a break. I always have a general idea of what I want to express in each post, and in my head I’m always three or four posts head of the last  one published. But the writing process is very organic, and most of my best stuff pours out while I’m trying to say something else.

Now where was I?

Oh yeah, rambling about innovation. Funny story; many years ago I was having a conversation with a Golden Dawn Ceremonial Magician about this very topic of innovation, making the same points about the romantic validation of a belief, practice or tradition based on how old it is; and how not only is it okay to make up you own stuff, many times it’s actually better. After some discussion and some civil debate we came to an interesting agreement:

“It’s okay to make stuff up, as long as you do it right..”

Which leads to the second form of validation, popularity. While I stand fast to my assertion that it is the benefit of beliefs and practices that determine their validity, and their value; most people settle for popularity. 

In other words, it doesn’t need to actually work well, as long as enough people are doing it. If I were using a Big Bang Theory theme, this episode would be called “The Population Validation.”

Yeah, fuck that.

Seriously. Don’t we get enough mindless orthopraxy from the other areas of our lives? Fuck. That. Life is too short. I’ve got less than 50 years left on this rock, so my time is too valuable to be wasted on voluntary bullshit that does not benefit me. 

I’m all about quality over quantity. I want good high quality times, spent with good high quality people, doing good high quality things, like good high quality Heathenry. And all of my Kinnish innovations have been developed to enhance those good high quality experiences.

So, I'll leave you with a small simple example of a recent innovation.

We read in the lore about the war between the Aesir and Vanir. How they came together in truce, and how as part of that truce, each of them spit into a vat. Their spit mingled and from their combined saliva; Kvasir, wisest of all beings was born.

They came together under a banner of truce, Grith. And their grithy spit produced the “wisest being.” I found that quite inspirational. 

From that one might make the argument that this portion of lore supports the mixing and mingling DNA, to “produce good natured wisdom.” But that’s another post. For now let’s just apply that theme to formally establishing grith at gatherings.

The Grithhold is a vessel, like the vat. Mine is a nice wooden bowl. And in that bowl is a fresh dirt from several specific places on my property, the Nichterhof. And when people come to the Nichterhof for blot, they spit in that wooden bowl full of dirt as a gesture of grith.

This gesture indicates their compliance to the policy that “no business will be conducted on continental grounds.”

It’s a simple innovation inspired by lore. But it becomes sacred when we share it. 

And you can’t make Frith without Grith.

Innovating Kinnish

Organized Freemasonry celebrated its 300th anniversary in California this year. Which made it a very cool year to be installed as Master of my Lodge. I’ve been a Mason for over 15 years now, and I have been active for most of those years, But when I wasn’t active in lodge, I was active in my personal studies, and have come to be known for my knowledge and work in the field of Masonic Edification. I am the founder of Providence Research Society, and Have been lecturing about Masonry to other Masons for some time now.

That all being said; I don’t know where Freemasonry came from. None of us do. So we say “since time immemorial.” Which is a really slick way of saying “we don't know.” So, of course, many theories have been developed regarding the origins of the world’s oldest fraternity. And those theories are one of the favorite topics of discussion among Philoso-brothers.

While the vast majority of Masons seem to prefer the Templar origin theory, I personally prefer the less grand, less romantic, and therefore less popular, Morality Play Guild theory. But it has always been quite the tired subject for me because in the end, I really don’t care. And that seems to drive people crazy. My reasoning it this: if indisputable proof of the Templar theory was discovered today, it wouldn’t change anything for me. If indisputable proof of the Morality Play Guild theory was discovered today, that wouldn’t change anything either. 

“Great. Now we know. So what.”

My point is, although as interesting as the origin may be, it remains trivial. I don’t benefit from the information. Knowing the origin does make Masonry more or less valid. It doesn’t make me more or less a Mason. It doesn’t increase or decrease my interest or investment in Freemasonry.  I am far more interested in what Masonry is, than I am in what it was. Because those are two very different things. And because there’s very little value or benefit to be found in what it once was. How much do I, as a member, benefit from my membership? Right now. Because that is what determines its value.

Unlike Masonry, Heathenry really isn’t that old. American Heathenry only came into being around the same time that I did. Technically, I’m a few months older than Asatru. But age should not be a characteristic used to determine the validity of a belief system. 

It is the benefit of beliefs and practices that determine their validity, and their value.

But, unfortunately, most people subscribe to the romantic idea that if it's really old, it's valid. And that the way they did a few thousand years ago is the only true way. And that the way we think they did a few thousand years ago is the only true way.

I call bullshit.

With absolute and unadulterated confidence, I call bullshit. I don’t believe that our venerable European Ancestors held a hummer up to each of the four directions, suspiciously similar to that way all contemporary Pan-Pagan rituals do. That’s an innovation. Just like Wicca. But that's okay.

More specifically, Gardner’s tradition. Gerald Gardner, the Mason; who took Masonic ritual structure and technology and wrapped it in Witchcraft. Any Mason can take a Masonic highlighter and light up Gardner’s “Book of Shadows.”

But, I honestly don’t find anything wrong with that. I think he could have done a much better job, but it got the job done. To his credit, look what he started. 

Heathenry is no different. What was not known during the development of modern Asatru was borrowed or invented out of necessity, like the Nine Noble Virtues. Those who use an alternative system like the “Thews,” innovated that system and those Thews out of their aversion for what was available at the time and their desire for something better suited to there needs.

Nothing wrong with that either.

After all, isn't that what we’ve always done? I started out this Kinnish Series with the full disclosure that I had fallen in love with the idea of Wicca, but found that Wicca sucked. So I made my own way. 

Since then I have found my home, and part of myself, in Heathenry. And I am extremely happy with things, for the most part. But, I do see room for improvement, room for innovation, room for developing new techniques, new traditions.

New Folkways. 

But it's not my place to pimp out Asatru and push it on everyone else. So, when I'm with the Kindred, I do as the Kindred does. But I'm an Innovationist, and an active contributor. So, in addition to the Kindred way, I also have my own Kinnish ways.

I'm a Heathen, but I'm a Kinnish Heathen. 

I'm a big boy, and I'm allowed to be what I want. Even if that means I improve, invent, develop and innovate my own Folkways. And that too, is okay. I mean really, where do you think everything you're doing came from?

It doesn't matter how old your religion is. Whether it's been around for 50 years, or 5000. 

It started out as an innovation.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Observing Kinnish


My greatest dissatisfaction with Wicca was the lack of any mature, complex or cohesive theology. So when I decided to have a go at filling that void for myself, I began sorting through what Wicca did have. And in doing so, I found a pattern which seems to permeate throughout all religiosity. The pattern is that all religious behaviors and spiritual activities seem to fall into one of five primary categories, which I call “The Five Labors.”

In my opinion, I sincerely believe that “Observation” is by far the most important labor. In my system, there are two primary types of religious observances; Feriae (feer-ree-eye), and Vicis (vee-cheez). Feriae are holidays like Yule, Ostara, Mid-summer. Vicis, Latin for a “series of steps or sequence of stations” refers to the various phases of the human life cycle; pregnancy, birth, puberty, adulthood, parenthood, etc. 

Quick side note: I use a Latin nomenclature throughout my entire theological system. My reasoning for this is based on the same model used in most of the classical Arts and Sciences, such as biological sciences where Latin in used in a system to identify species of plants and animals.  

Over the past 15 years I have come to emphasize the importance of formal Rites of Passage. I have preached, argued, lectured, presented, and written quite a bit on the topic. Including at least two post here; once about My Son’s Rite of Passage, and another about My First Presentation at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, where I gave my first presentation on the topic of Rites of Passage to the academic community, an experience which turned out to be a rite of passage for me, and to quote myself:

“..rites of passage are important because we have a need for validation and acceptance. Rites of passage fulfill these needs and we are fulfilled spiritually, psychologically and emotional by them when our community celebrates our big step across the threshold, and is there to welcome us. This fulfillment sustains us and we can then move on other pursuits.
..we as communities have lost these rites, but we as individuals have not lost the need for them. A need unfulfilled remains a need. These needs unfulfilled, we find ourselves distracted by the pursuit of that validation and acceptance. Left to our own devices we create our own rites, like losing our virginity, committing our first crime or serving our first prison sentence.”

Another (mostly) Wiccan practice I have always found fault with was the premise of “Self-Initiation,” the idea that you could "initiate yourself" into the religion or a tradition of Wicca. Something I consider to be an oxymoron, being that by definition, an initiation is an activity which is done to you by others marking your entrance and/or acceptance into their group. So, to be clear, there is a distinction to be made between a “Self-dedication” and an Initiation.  The primary essence of that distinction is the presence and recognition of a group or community. 

How sweet is your success if there is no one to celebrate it? How warm is your welcome if there in no one there to greet you? When you cross the threshold into adulthood and there’s no one there to see it, did it happen? 

Kinnish is a Kin-centric community where the Observance of life cycles is the most Sacred Folkway.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Elaborating Kinnish


Just a quick reminder to everyone before we get started; that although I am an active member of a thriving Kindred, I do not speak on their behalf. Nor do my views or opinions necessarily reflect those of my Kinsmen or women, individually or collectively. This is all me and only me.

Kinnish is a Sacred Folkway

It’s always a great personal victory when someone you respect unknowingly validates your views and opinions, and for me, it was just the icing on the cake of our Kindred Harvest Feast this past weekend. Like a large tree, our Kindred has several main branches; two in my state and two more in two other states. And there are several gatherings each year that everyone moves Asgard and Midgard to attend, despite the distance between us.

Not for the Gods, but for each other.

And since the first Yule gathering I attended a few years ago, I have never missed a Kindred Event. I have done more driving in these most recent few years, than I have in the previous ten. And I have yet to regret a single mile. The reunion with Kinfolk satisfies both spiritual and emotional needs; to share gifts, share food, stories, laughter and prayers. It is in every way, a pilgrimage.

Folkways

Image for a moment that you’re surrounded by everyone in your life who is important to you. That all the people that you love and care about, and that love and care about you, are all standing around you; singing to you in thunderous blissful unity. Even though one or two of them may not care very much for each other, they’ve set aside those difference, for you. And sing together. For you.

Social Mores are customs, habits and/or mannerism which often satisfy human needs, while also enforcing moral codes and perpetuating social taboos. A wedding might be an example of a Social More because, although it seems to be falling out of fashion lately, a child born out of wedlock was often considered an “illegitimate” or bastard child. Enforcing a taboo against unapproved sexual relations, and the need for socially recognized matrimony.  

A Folkway is like a Social More in that it is a common social custom, that also satisfies basic human needs, but without really enforcing any certain moral significance. A birthday party is a good example of a Folkway; it satisfies deep emotional needs to be recognized and celebrated. To receive gifts, to be visited by those we don’t often see. To be sung to by those we know and love. And to feel loved.

Sacred

Many years ago I stood beside an altar among a group of men in a cozy prison chapel in central California. I was setting up the altar for Pagan religious service. The room was noisy and bustling. I had not been there in several weeks and so the energy was high and conversations were contagious.'

While catching up with attendees, I noticed an unfamiliar face hovering near the altar, eyeballing the various ritual tools. He picked up the chalice for a closer look and was immediately reprimanded by a bystander, “oh, don’t touch that, it’s sacred.” He instantly reacted with apologetic remorse, “oh, my bad, I didn’t know.”

“Sacred” is a very powerful word.   

My curiosity bit down hard on this observation, and I began my own meta-analysis of the meaning of sacred. What made the “chalice,” which is really just a fancy word for a “cup,” sacred? Is it what it’s made from? No. Just your average cheaply silver plating, a less than $20 value. Was it “blessed” through some “magic” ritual, which imbued a once ordinary object with supernatural qualities and/or power? Thankfully, no. Otherwise we would have had to break-away and conduct a meta-analysis of the meaning of both “blessed” and “magic.”

So what was it, that made this cup so “sacred” that someone was told not to touch it? It was, after all, a ritual tool. And we would be passing it around the circle very soon, and then everyone would touch it. That’s when it hit me. It is not what the cup was, that made it sacred. It is what the cup does, that made it sacred.

Each person takes a turn raising the cup in reverent prayer, taking a drink, and passing it to the person next to them, while saying “may you never thirst.” The cup was sacred because it facilitated our relationship with each other, and with the divine.

It was sacred because we shared it.

Kindred gatherings may involve the veneration of our deceased relatives, our ancestors, and our legendary celebrated heroes. They may involve the adoration of our Ancestral Gods. But that’s not what makes them sacred. Our gatherings are sacred because they facilitate Tribal Kinship. Like the cup, our Horns are sacred, not because we raise them to our Gods, but because we share them with the people standing beside to us. People who drove a very long way to share them with us.

And that, is why it’s a pilgrimage. Another Sacred Folkway.