LARP and Ministry (part 2)

So, in an earlier post I started musing about what benefit came from my playing a priest for over ten years in a live action roleplaying game (aka LARP).  It certainly honed my spiritual counseling skills, but that wasn’t the only thing.  It also gave me some useful experience with theological exegesis.

Let me give a little background here, without (hopefully) getting too deep into the nerdy details.  My character was a priest of a functionally henotheistic religion dedicated to the worship of the goddess who had created humanity.  The prime tenet of the faith was “Harm None”.  Sound familiar?  This made being an adherent of the faith somewhat… challenging, especially since the LARP setting was a dangerous, D&D like world full of monsters, evil cultists, lunatic wizards, demons, etc.  Obviously, a “turn the other cheek” or complete pacifist approach to this commandment would be ludicrous (and suicidal).

But one of the head writers for the LARP worked with me, and we turned this problem into an opportunity.  One obvious thing that I could say as my character was that the prime tenet applied only to fellow humans- monsters and other sentient races were not the concern of the goddess, so it was all right to fight them (and in fact encouraged in the case of those who were inimical to humanity).

But of course there were also brigands, thieves, and just generally nasty folk.  For this, the head writer and I resorted to a a more cunning plan- we created a series of letters that the human founder of the faith had written, explaining important matters to the first priests he had ordained.  And the very first one was about the “Harm None” commandment.

The founder wrote that the goddess preferred her folk to be peaceful, and to stop wrongdoers without violence, but when that failed, then she did not forbid violence.  It was incumbent upon people of faith to act in order to prevent harm- even if that meant causing smaller harm in order to prevent greater harm.  To fight bandits to stop them from murdering, to fight invaders to stop them from raping and plundering, to fight thieves to stop them from stealing from the weak- this was allowable.

But the goddess’s folk also had to judge- were they acting to cause the least harm?  Were they keeping violence as a last resort and not a ready tool?  And did they always remember that even a justifiable use of violence was in some way a failure, one that the user would have to explain during their post-death judgment?

The letter went on from there to explore topics such as reparations, forgiveness (both divine and human), even suicide. I did most of the heavy theological lifting on this, with the head writer providing important guidance, historical context, and suggestions.  It was challenging and fascinating, and it worked– I know for a fact that it restored the faith of one of the other characters who was a follower of the goddess- and blew the mind of the player as well.

The head writer and I went on to write (by current count) six more letters, dealing with matters such as free will, love and marriage, birth and death, etc.  Just to make things a bit meta, I got to read theses letters in character and do a further level of exegesis on them in explaining them to other characters.  The whole experience worked to greatly improve my theological thinking.  It was also a lot of fun.

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The so-called “Maxims of the Fianna” (pt. 2)

As promised in my last post on the subject (long ago and far away though it is now), I’m finally getting around to the so-called “Maxims” themselves.  It’s Samhain night, a good night for tales of Fionn and the Fianna… As I mentioned before, they’re not identified in that way in the text (Rolleston appears to have inserted that subtitle himself, since it doesn’t appear in the translations… or in Lady Gregory’s version, FWIW).

They are, instead, a set of guidelines for a young warrior in service in a noble household. One could argue that this is not a situation that is likely to happen in the modern world, but they are instructions from Fionn himself, and so I feel they should be taken seriously. So, let’s see what we have here (using the Dooley and Roe translation); all of the comments are my own thoughts for modern application- I’m thinking out my own virtue system, so the ones mentioned are my thoughts (and perhaps some UPG), not meant to correspond to any existing set:

“Be peaceable in a great man’s house” If you’ve been given hospitality, don’t get rowdy or start fights with other guests. Virtue: Hospitality.

“Be hardy in the wilderness” Have some basic survival knowledge. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not beat your hound without cause, nor libel your wife without proof” Virtue: Temperance.

“Avoid the fool in battle, though he be frenzied.” Choose your fights. Virtue: Temperance

“Do not mock the holy man” Virtue: Piety

“Nor be involved in quarrels” This may seem like an impossible task in this day and age, but perhaps it could be applied this kind of situation. Virtue: Temperance

“Keep well away from these two, the witch and the evil man” In context, I take “witch” to mean “worker of bad magic”… ‘ all apologies to modern-day Pagans… So, basically, “you’re known by the company you keep”. Virtue: Integrity

“Two thirds of your courtesy to women and the household servants” In the context of the text, this seems to be noblesse oblige; I can interpret this as being good to those who might be taken for granted. Virtue: Kindness

“Be kind to poets, the makers of art, and the common soldiery” You could make a triad of these, naming them as supports of freedom. Also, more practically, three groups of people you don’t want to have mad at you… Virtues: Kindness, Piety (especially towards the first two)

“Do not take the best seat away from friends and advisers” Be good to those close to you. Virtue: Loyalty

“Avoid false and crooked oaths” Virtue: Honesty

“Do not welcome everybody” This may seem to go against hospitality, but if you know someone is bad… Virtue: Integrity

“Do not boast overmuch, nor offer what you cannot rightly give;
For grand words are shameful if nothing result.” Virtue: Temperance

“Do not forsake your overlord for as long as you live,
For gold, silver, or wealth do not betray your guarantor.” Virtue: Loyalty

“Avoid blustering complaint to a lord about his household;
A good man has no business libelling retainers to their lord.” Nobody likes a complainer and a tale-teller. Virtue: Integrity

“Keep from constant gossip and lies, and from impetuous speech;
Though you be generous, deride none in public.” Nobody likes a gossip, either. Virtue: Integrity

“Do not frequent ale-houses” Virtue: Temperance

“Nor be unkind to an old man” Virtue: Kindness

“Listen to words of good counsel” This will be what you get from the friends and advisors mentioned above, if you treat them well. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Have no truck with the rabble” Choose your company and your inputs well (e.g. don’t read forum comments on YouTube 😉 ) Virtue: Temperance

“Be a listener in the forest, a watcher on the plain;
For you do not know – this matters – if your enemy lies in wait for you.” Always be on the look-out for good intel; it’s worth its weight in gold. Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not be mean with provisions, or be a miser’s friend” Virtues: Generosity, Hospitality

“Do not impose yourself on a great lord” Don’t be a suck-up or a parasite. Virtue: Integrity

“Do not speak ill of great men” If they’re truly great, that is… Virtue: Integrity

“Have your armor and weapons ready for the outbreak of sudden battle” Virtue: Resourcefulness

“Do not be mean with your wealth” Virtue: Generosity

“Be constant with your courtliness” It never hurts to be polite. Virtue: Kindness

So, even taking into account my disclaimers at the beginning of this post, you can extract the following virtues from the “Maxims”: Hospitality, Temperance, Resourcefulness, Piety, Honesty, Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity. Not bad…

 

Magnetic Poetry

We collect fridge magnets.  Not obsessively, but occasionally… they make great compact keepsakes to bring back from our voyages, and some artists use them as a convenient medium for small pieces.

At out cabin, we have a sampling of the usual mix, plus several different “magnetic poetry” collections- including Shakespearean words and a selection of phrases from The Onion.  This has led to many odd sentences and slogans spread across the doors of the refrigerator there.

This weekend, however, something different happened.  There were three magnets- one with a Brigid symbol, one with a picture of Her, and one with a Celtic cross.  I moved them so that there was a little space cradled between them, and challenged myself to come up with something appropriate from the remaining words.  I did… and then, after pondering the result, She told me to write the rest of the poem:

My Lady’s fire can make drunk
The coolness of this world- only pour out
And see: Her well contains the flame,
Her forge flows with the inspiring drink
Of poets. Petal upon petal, Her flowered
Aspects unfold from either, both, other;
And as hearth flicker and struck spark
Flash across the earth, springs burst forth
From every hidden hollow; water, blaze,
And the hand of Art all strive, all proclaim
The power of Her name to a waiting land.

(The part up to and including “And see” are from the magnets…)

Cousin Bat

Those who know me know that I like (am mildly obsessed with) bats.  There are many reasons, not the least is that they are an Important Animal to me spiritually – I’m not going to use any more specific terminology because I don’t want to make any claims that I don’t have backup for.

They also, unsurprisingly, flitter into my poetry:

Cousin Bat

What are the ways to sing praise of the night-flyer?
Not hard: emerging at sunfall’s call, they dive,
Flickering through light-cones, prey-hunting, or
Skim swift past our heads, sure of course, seeking
To feed on pests, unwanted crawlers; or they sip,
Hovering daintily, at secret flowers, night blooms,
Blessing each with pollen from the last; or they spread
Seeds, a worthy outcome of fruit-greed: jungles
Regrow from their dung. Cunningly concealed by day,
Carrier away when the sun is gone, so loved by Nature
They arose twice, independent; soaring a six-foot span
Or hiding thumb-small in river caves; solo slumbering in leaves
Or spiraling in their millions to flow against the moon-
Wondering words as many as all their wings would not be enough.

Always there, waiting

Sometimes I sit down to write a poem, sometimes a poem sits me down to write it, and sometimes someone sparks one off of me.  Thanks, T., for a question you may not have known you asked:

Always there, waiting

Time and tide may not wait, but
The sea herself is patient. All gods
Within her, too; their realm is first,
Fuller; deeper than dry land is tall.
Each drop of rain tastes of the abyss,
Each downflowing trickle of stream
Is a tendril, like seaweed, calling-
Siren and Whale and Admiral,
Or Earth-shaking trident-wielder,
Or nine-daughtered Ship-slayer,
Or mist-cloaked Trickster,
Or oh so many Others-
They all sing in the salt flow
In our veins, and choose or not
We are always, helpless, listening.

— 7/16/17

LARP and Minstry (part 1)

So, one of my hobbies is live action roleplaying (or LARP).  I used to do it a lot more, but I still have a significant interest in it.  Most of my LARP time these days is taken up by a live-combat medieval fantasy game called Xanodria.  I’ve been playing various roles since 1995, and I recently retired a priest character who I’d played for over ten years.

Yes, there is a point to this (other than proving that I’m a huge nerd).  I learned a lot from this experience, about being a minister in particular.  As well as spending a lot of time just being this character- holding weddings and funerals, counseling the faithful, etc.- I got to get deeply involved in the theology of his fictional religion, fleshing out details and working on some knotty problems.

It’s the counseling I want to touch on first.  My character did a lot of it- he was spiritual advisor to an order of warriors dedicated to protect the light and fight the shadow (think the Rangers from LOTR with even more weapons training) as well as to members of his faith.  He spent so much time talking to troubled adventurers that he joked that he should have regular office hours.

This was a great gift for me in my real life.  It helped me hone my skills in the same way that class simulations do, and allowed me to experiment and fine-tune my methods without worrying about real-world consequences… no matter how badly I screwed up, the game session would be over at the end of the weekend and everyone would go back home.  Sure, mistakes could impact the player’s happiness as well as the character’s well-being, but it still wasn’t critical.

In some ways, it was better than a classroom simulation.  The games run for a whole weekend, so my character could have repeated sessions with another, including time for both to reflect and adjust.  And the players of these games tend to invest in their characters, putting a lot of time and emotion into them, giving them detailed backstories and spending hours or days simply being them.

I was enrolled at Cherry Hill Seminary for much of the time I played this character, and what I learned there informed how I acted in the game as well.  It created a beneficial feedback loop that I’m still reaping benefits from.

Sometimes we’re living in science fiction. Sometimes it’s more like a Borges story.

[I used to publish my non-devotional poetry on my LiveJournal account, but their recent TOS changes make me unwilling to do so.  Until I figure out whether I’m going to bother with Dreamwidth for anything other than reading others’ journals, I’m going to post it here when I feel so moved.  Honestly, since I dedicate all my poetry to Brigid, none of it is actually non-devotional…]

Inspired by this article from Atlas Obscura, I give you:

Uncharted

In some wind of internet terrain,
A program waits, patient, bits
Ticking over.  The glass turns, algorithms wake-
Random bumps appear, are eroded;
Meticulous calculations churn for
Ninety seconds (geologic ages in server time),
And maps emerge- mountains looming over valleys,
Coastlines carved in with bays and capes,
Islands jewel-scattered across oceans.
All this done in hand-drawn style,
Fantasy-labeled with names hinting of
History and deep language, fit for the
Endpapers of novels.  An atlas
Building itself from water and topography
Every hour- and the rivers always reach the sea.

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