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IntroductionHow Do I Use It?Why These Topics?

Why These Topics?

There are two sets of topics: introductory and cyclic. The introductory set should be gone through first by every new member to an Elders' group. This can occur as part of the overall two-year cycle or in a separate session. The cyclic topics can be started, by a new member, at any place within the cycle. The main idea being, that every few years, the entire body of lore is repeated and updated, much like the Viking Lawspeaker publically reciting one third of the law at each year's Althing.

These are the introductory set of topics.

This is primary, because if we get this wrong all the rest of this is just a bunch of old geezers (and geezettes) flapping their gums. We all think we know how to communicate, but as experience has shown us, it's very easy to misunderstand or be misunderstood. "Did they really mean to say, what I thought I heard them say?"
Oral Tradition
Why revert to an oral tradition? The written word is great for recording what exactly was said, but it too easily degenerates into dogma. Print is not dynamic, flexible, adaptable. It rigidifies and fossilizes; the rule of justice tranforms into the rule of law and tyranny. Fundamentalism springs up when the "book" over-rules direct experience.
Before we can build community, we need to know what constitutes a community; especially in today's Neo-Pagan cultures. You're always hearing about how we need to create community, but almost no one seems to know what it is.
Just what the heck is an Elder anyway? (No it's not "an old fart.") Age is not the defining characteristic of Elderhood. This is another of those barely defined words that everybody uses, but almost nobody knows what it means. To survive, viable, long-term communities require Elders. They're the voice of experience; the ones who've seen it before and know what may work, and more importantly, what won't work.
Mentoring is a way of putting the accummulated experience of the older (and hopefully wiser) members of community to work for the overall good of that community. It's not just teaching—the imparting of knowledge or skills—rather it's the offering of an opinion, based on previous experiences, about what could or should be done about a situation or problem.
People tend to confuse their particular set of beliefs with religion. Given that all forms of Neo-Paganism are strongly based in a religious framework, we need to understand the religious impulse in our species. What function does it fulfill? Remember, in evolution, it wouldn't be there if it didn't have a function. What are its various forms and expressions? How do we, as Elders, nuture it in the present and transmit it to the future generations.

The rest of these are the cyclic set. Although in actuality, the introductory set is included within the cyclic set.

Spiritual and religious ideas that affect our interactions with others and the world around us.

Paradigms & Worlds
Each of us has a world-view, a model of the universe, which we use to manipulate the world around us. Before we can understand the world around us, we need to know that model and how it can alter our understanding. Where did the various parts come from? How do they interact with each other? And what effect will making changes, in the parts, have on the whole?
Value Systems
These are the nuts and bolts of morality and ethics issues. Morality largely being what you think is "right", and ethics being what two or more of you negotiate as being "right." Morality stops at the end of each person's nose, and ethics fills the space between.
Systems of Purity
There are many ways to do something; some are more "correct" than others. Instead of purity, think fidelity: faithfulness to obligations, duties, or observances. This topic deals with how to maintain that purity, and what to do if it isn't maintained.

Knowing ourselves and how we think.

Structures of the human mind, their organization, and functions. Spiritual development requires a through knowledge of the psyche: the animating spirit. Making changes without a fundamental understanding of human psychology is both foolish and dangerous.
Rational / Critical Thought
Rational or critical thought is just one of the many ways of thinking. This topic covers the development, uses and limitations of analytical thought. Even though magic and spirituality are chaotic systems, we don't need to abandon all critical thought. In fact, its deliberate cultivation can save us from many of the pitfalls that liberally line our various spiritual paths.
Intuitive Thought
Another way of thinking; the deliberate triggering of associative memory connections. Intuitive thought allows us to side-step the limitations of rational thought; affording us access to information not achievable by logic alone. However, it too has limitations, and we need to be aware of them.
Creative Thought
Is creativity a gift or skill? We need to encourage creative thinking in ourselves and others. Creative thought is a large part of Magical thinking: the linking disparate ideas and manipulating them through those links.
Empathic Thought
Learning to think and feel like the other. A monk on a mountain has little need of empathy. All the rest of us, require it in large doses, if we are to maintain the rich diversity of our individual paths.

The Sacred and its many expressions.

We all have them. In part because we're human, and in part because they define what human is. But what exactly are they? Archetypes are another of those slippery concepts; frequently spoken of, but not well understood. We need to learn how to channel their vast energies, or they can take over our lives.
Just who or what exactly is God (either with an upper or lower case "g"), and why do we seek him/her/it? Our beliefs and understandings of this concept are mirrored in the way we deal with the world around us. For better or worse, our "knowledge" of God affects our interactions with all those we come into contact.
Goddess & God
Archetypes of the fully realized woman and man, the Goddess and God have many forms and expressions. Some are benign and caring, and some are not. All of them lie within us, waiting to emerge when we least expect them.
Myths are neither falsehoods nor are they just stories. Like poetry, their meaning can not be approached directly, literally. They express subtle truths about us and the world we live in. Myths shape and preserve those values a culture uses to define itself.

Spiritual and religious ideas related to existence and our path through life.

Soul / Spirit
Is that all there is? Purina worm chow or immortal spark? Are we more than just the sum of our parts? A soul or a spirit, whether it only exists for an hour or for all eternity, is a part of everything.
Death, Dying & Grief
There is a time for everything; life is built on death. This topic covers many of the issues raised by death and dying. What happens to us after death? How can we achieve a good death? And how can we help the survivors cope, after a death?
Why does this always happen to me? Is there a predetermine sequence to our lives? Is it inevitable or just self-fulfilling? This topic covers the different ideas about destiny and fate.
Divination is talking with the sacred. However you conceptualize the sacred, we have a need to communicate with it. While we can easily talk to the divine, it's not so easy to hear it talking back. Two-way communication can take many different forms, but among the most common is divination.

Expressions of spiritual energies.

Sacred Power
For those who follow the Neo-Pagan religions, contact with the sacred is inevitable. Even though it's deliberately sought, that contact contains an element of hazard for the unprepared. Whatever you call it, that power can uplift, or it can cast down; it can enlighten our minds, or fry them like bacon on a hot griddle.
Those shifting cracks in our carefully constructed worlds, through which briefly shines numinous reality. Humor takes us out of ourselves, and releases us from pain. It bonds us together in ways that are unexpected and refreshing.
Lest we take ourselves too seriously. The Trickster is at once a creator and a caution. His stories open us up to possiblity, and warn against the misuse of power. He liberates and instructs, acts as both a good example and a bad example; in short, he is paradox.
Seeing the sacred within the grotesque. Absurdly funny or terrifying, clowns embody the raw power of the sacred; bringing it to the people in a form that both contradicts normality and still reinforces it. Clowns are another form of the trickster and his revivifing engeries.

The spiritual sciences are those that lead us back into engagement with the world around us.

Two questions that are just as popular today as when they were first asked, fifty thousand years ago, are: who are we, and were did we come from. We need to understand our past and how it has shaped us. Anthropology helps us know why we are the way we are. It shows us our limitations, and hints at our full potentials.
Ecology reveals our place in the scheme of things. We are not alone in this world, nor can we afford to act as if we were. We are connected to everything else; our actions affect them, and their actions affect us.
Chaos Theory
Chaos theory helps us cope with living in a non-linear world. The majority of events that occur in the world we live in are chaotic events. Any sufficiently complex system is liable to fall into chaos. The human mind, magic, and religion all qualify as sufficiently complex.
There are many ways to conceptualize time: as a stream, a fan, a tree, or a helix. How we view time affects us in our interactions with each other and with the world around us.

Useful philosophical and religious ideas from the Far East.

Life is energy in motion, and we are but tiny fish in a mighty river. Taoism teaches us to perceive that motion, and to conserve our limited energies by working with it, instead of wasting our energies by trying to futilely oppose it.
Illusion is anything that clouds our understanding. We need to learn to "see" the world clearly. Most of us see the world through filters that we aren't even aware of. This topic covers some of the many sources of illusion in our lives.
Being here, now… Too often we get lost in our memories of the past, or our anticipations of the future. Our attention is everywhere but where it's really needed. Zen is a philosophy that teaches us to focus on the only moment in which we are truely alive: the present.
Enlightenment occurs in the moment of a of paradigm shift. It is not a state that we can achieve. Rather, it is an event, that can recur many times, as we travel our spiritual path.

Religious forms and ritual behavior.

Ritual & Theater
Ritual is a way of approaching the sacred through play. This topic covers why we engage in ritual behavior, the necessity of good theater to good ritual, and understanding the sequence of events within ritual.
Rites of Passage
Liminal events constantly occur in our lives from birth, to death, and beyond. We need to know what a liminal event is, when it should happen, and how to precipitate one.
Men's Mysteries
What it really means to be a man: potentialities and limitations. The genetic heritage of masculinity and how cultural overlays can modify it.
Women's Mysteries
What it really means to be a woman: potentialities and limitations. The genetic heritage of femininity and how cultural overlays can modify it.
Turning the Wheel
Observing a ritual cycle of the year; re-engaging with the world around us.

These are the major expressions of Neo-Paganism in America. Each has its own history and has contributed to the history of the others. The better we understand each, the better we can work together to accomplish our common goals. If we are each to survive as a culture, we need to see those elements, that we hold in common, within our diversity.

A modern religion, Wicca, especially in its Feminist forms, was instrumental in the resurgence and acceptance of Goddess worship in America and Europe. In theory, Wicca is a very different religion from most religions today. Like Sufism, it is composed almost entirely of mystics; each responsible for finding their own path to the Goddess and God.
While this is more a magical technology than a religion, generally speaking, Witches and Wiccan both actively practice the use of magic. It is deeply interwoven into the fabric of their cultures and their identities, and to a large extent accounts for much of the uneasiness and fear felt by many in the main-stream culture.
History of Wicca
What's real, what's likely, and what's just plain silly? Egos and desires have influenced many of the "histories" of the origins of Wicca. We need to know who we are, and where we come from. (Yes, yes, I know… we all come from the Goddess.) If we want to be taken seriously by the main-stream culture, we better get our facts straight.
In its Meso-Pagan and many of its Neo-Pagan forms, Druidy pre-dates Wicca. Yet, it too is a "modern" reconstruction. Until recently, it was composed more of romanticism and wishful thinking, than of research. That is changing as more serious research is conducted, by its modern practitioners, into the cultures of the Celtic peoples. Druidry and Wicca owe much to each other through the friendship of Philip Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner.
Heathenry / Asatru
A reconstruction of the culture and religions of the Scandinavian and Germanic North, with an emphasis on the culture. Heathens have a long and rich historical tradition to research, with well over a thousand years of documentation. Heathens are beginning to abandon their isolationist policies. They are seeking recognition by the main-stream culture, and attempting to network with the more "stable" Neo-Pagan groups.
Again, not so much a religion, as a technology, Shamanism can be practiced by almost anyone. Very few people lack the ability to enter the altered state of consciousness where they can journey to the Otherworld. It is at once, the oldest and the newest of the magical technologies. There is archeological evidence that trance journeys were recorded, in some of the cave paintings, as long as thirty five thousand years ago. Modern science is still working to unravel the mysteries of altered states of unconsciousness, and in the process confirming many of the claims of the Shamans.
Vodun / Lukumi / Candomble
With ove 60 million adherents world-wide, these largely Yoruban-based religions are probably the largest Neo-Pagan religion. Neo-Pagan in the sense that they are relatively modern adaptations, by African and Native American slaves, of older aborignal religions that were suppressed by the slave owners of the North and South America.

Leading in a community and the issues that arise.

Leadership is an art, but it's an art that can be learned. Different models of leadership, what works, what doesn't work, and why. Inspiring followers by leading from the front; leading by example.
Small Group Dynamics
Learning to function effectively within a group or community. This is an overview of the energies operating on or through the interactions of members withinin a small group.
Conflict Management
The peaceful resolution of disputes within a group or community. Different conflict management styles, sources of conflict and techniques for dealing with it.
Gender identity and roles within the cultural framework: expectations, potentialities, and limitations.
Recognition of humans as sexual beings. The multiple functions of sex within the social organization of human society, their ramifications and consequences.

Other functions that an Elder may perform within a community.

Leading the next generation, and ensuring continuity. The transmission and reinforcement of cultural values, traditions, and identity.
Making right what is wrong; restoring to wholeness. This is an overview of a number of alternative health practices. Healing can be physical, psychological, or spiritual.
Pastoral Counselling
Pastoral counselling is the spiritual realignment of a member in distress to the religious community. This is an overview of the many different types of counselling that fall under the rubric of pastoral counselling.

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