Roads Not Travelled
I hate roads. Once upon a time, I thought of roads as something full of promise. They seemed to offer the opportunity to go anywhere and with that opportunity to go anywhere, they seemed to offer the opportunity to do anything once you had arrived. As I got a little older and more experienced, I learned to appreciate the road for itself…to appreciate the journey rather than the destination.
Lately however, I have lost that appreciation. In its place sprouted a seed of distrust. It grew before long into dislike and then, in the course of things, into full-blown hate. So, here I am.
I absolutely hate the roads.
I am a Soldier deployed to Iraq. It was perhaps the experience here that has served to water the seeds of hatred. The roads in Iraq do not offer an opportunity to go anywhere—at least not anywhere most of us are anxious to go. They do not offer an opportunity to do anything. Instead, they offer an opportunity to cease doing anything…ever again.
Anyone who has watched the news is familiar with the roadside bombs we call IEDs. It is hardly surprising such experiences with the roads would engender disaffection.
The truth is those experiences in and of themselves are not responsible for my hatred of the road. They merely set the stage. They got me thinking about roads in general. They got me thinking about the deceptiveness of roads and their siren song. They got me thinking about the false promises of freedom and opportunity roads make to the unwary.
They got me thinking about how the roads offer only an illusion, like the proverbial gilded cage. They offer to take you anywhere you want to go but in truth, they can only take you to the place they go.
They pretend to offer you a choice of paths to follow. You can select which turning in the road to take.
Is that really a choice though?
Rather than allowing you to go wherever you would like, they reduce your choices to those on offer by the road itself. You can go left or right or continue straight ahead. What if you wish to go in some other direction?
Well, then you must leave the road.
What does any of this have to do with Paganism? More than you might think.
As I spent more time thinking about roads, I began to think not just about the literal road on which we travel but also about those figurative roads upon which we travel through life.
How many of us in the Pagan community have described our religious experience in terms of following a particular Path? I daresay it is quite a few of us, even most of us.
Are these figurative roads any less deceptive than the literal roads that channel us in one direction or another? Do these figurative roads offer us any greater choice of destinations than do the roads of the real world?
Why have we become so enamored of our spiritual Paths? What do they offer in order to entice us?
I suspect many modern Pagans and neo-Pagans were drawn toward paganism because it embraces individuality to an extent conventional or mainstream religion does not. So, why do we give up the allure of that individuality in favor of placing ourselves on a particular Path?
I think perhaps a look at the mundane world might by illustrative.
Why do we travel on roads and paths in our everyday lives? The answer is they are easy. It is far easier to follow a path or a road than it is to blaze our own trail across unfamiliar country. We look at the world around us and we want to see it, to experience it. We look around and determine where it is we want to be or what it is we want to obtain and then we look for a route to reach that destination or goal.
We look for a road. In so doing, we miss out on all those things that are not on or alongside the road. We keep our focus on our objective and in so doing we ignore those things around us.
Similarly, in our spiritual lives we decide where we want to go and then we seek a road or Path to take us there. In so doing, we miss out on all that the world has to show and teach us. Rather than focus on experience, we focus on movement, on progression. We strive to reach the next circle or the next order or the next rank. Some even “magically” transport themselves to their destination and claim for themselves the title High Priest or High Priestess or Grand Poobah.
Yet, this focus often leaves us feeling unfulfilled. We reach our destination only to discover that it is not the place for which we were looking. We are left with an eternal search for our real destination.
That destination does not lie at the end of any road. No road leads to our destination. The roads are a lie. They promise us something they can never deliver. We can travel our entire lives and not reach that elusive destination because there is no destination. Instead, there is only the journey.
Yet, all roads lead somewhere.
If we elect to follow a road or a path, it will inevitably take us someplace. We should strive to avoid this “arrival” at all costs because any arrival is a lie. There is no destination and anything that offers or promises to take us there is engaged in a deceit. This is why I have grown to hate roads. To avoid the lie we must avoid the liar.
We must avoid the road.
It is no surprise our early animistic and shamanistic ancestors placed such great importance on things like vision quests or other experiences that sent the seeker out into the wilderness in search of spiritual awakening and enlightenment. The wilderness by definition lacks roads. Roads are the chains with which civilization binds the wild parts of the world and inexorably reduces them to slavery in service of the artificial construct we call society.
On these vision quests, our ancestors were not seeking a destination. They were seeking an experience. Where they went was immaterial. What mattered was what they experienced.
Roads served no useful purpose on these journeys. Indeed, one could well argue roads would have prevented the journey because they would have deprived the seeker of the experiences necessary to achieve the spiritual awakening being sought.
All this brings me back to the real question. Why do we elect to follow so-called spiritual Paths in our lives? Is it because we are unconsciously adverse to the amount of work it would take to blaze our own trail through the wilderness?
Is it because we have fallen prey to the deceptively sweet siren songs these roads sing to us? Are we afraid to loose ourselves in the spiritual wilderness?
I cannot speak for anyone else but I am unwilling to indulge the lies. I refuse to be led astray by the illusion of freedom that roads offer.
I hate roads.