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Archive for April, 2012
I’m really not cut out to be a celebrity. I’ve never sought fame, and am still rather uncomfortable with people looking to me as an authority on anything. But I’ve stepped up, and here I am – from peeking my head above the parapet, to then standing proudly in the knowledge that what I’m doing is helpful in some way. Bracing for brickbats (verbal and otherwise).
But it’s not always the case with modern Paganism. Certain individuals seek out the ‘leadership’ roles, seeing it as a quick route to fame/notoriety, with the added bonus of an automatic fanclub (coven). I’ve heard of ‘High Priests’ getting their covenmates to do their housework for them. Integrity is unlikely to be part of their syllabus of study.
This week, Druidry was in the news again, with both a biased Daily Mail piece (you can imagine the sort of thing; I’m not linking to it as I don’t want to give it the attention) and a stunningly ill-informed and childish op-ed article in the Daily Telegraph. There has subsequently been responses, including some discussion regarding how far we as a Druid community should respond to such publicity.
The subject of the Telegraph piece, Emma Restall Orr, mentioned at this year’s Druid Network AGM that she was glad times had changed; there was now no longer a need to court every journalist who came calling for a quote, as unlike in recent decades, Druidry is now better known and understood. Myself and my colleagues subsequently turned down some of the sillier requests – again, refusing to acknowledge childish questions that would never be asked of any more ‘acceptable’ faiths (‘do your family think what you do is weird?’). When those apparently educated journalists saw no problem with tabloid-level sensationalist reporting, they were then surprised to end up with a simple ‘no, thankyou.’
Not everyone seeks out the ‘X-Factor’ 15 minutes, losing ourselves, our values and our dignity to the altar of brief fame. Some of us simply want to get on and do what we do, in this case practising our faith quietly at home, and (as for myself and other public celebrants/priests) teaching about it when called upon.
After my last post, I had a wonderful comment, noting that a fair number of Pagans and Druids may be living entirely ethical lives as Pagans and Druids… just without those particular labels. They’re ‘getting on and doing’. So personal and connected, they don’t even realize they may have earned a description of their practice – it’s just life!
I think this is where the balance lies. It’s a tough line to walk, but at what point do we go beyond our quiet lives to stand up for our faith when challenged? From a loud public statement on a march (Pagan Pride) to writing ‘Pagan – Druid’ on a Census form, our voices are being heard. We’re forming the foundation of a new type of spirituality/religion/worship: no doctrine, just personal, individual belief and method. This must then be brought together to form a louder voice when needed, for the sake of that personal freedom for both ourselves and others. It’s not trying to lump us all in as one entity, an ‘organised religion’ seeking converts. It’s forming something new, full of potential that should be explored, with the power to challenge through our difference.
It’s all very well to criticise those who are still ‘in the closet’, but sometimes remaining silent is necessary. The Pagan Federation and The Druid Network (amongst others) are there to assist those who experience actual physical, mental or emotional difficulty in their practice, but it’s still easier to stay hidden than to shout about something perceived as so ‘niche’ – and yes, still compared with Satanism *sigh*.
However, it’s the challenge of speaking up that’s itself an initiatory experience. It’s a big step to write ‘Pagan/Witch/Druid’ on a form, to request a day off from work for a festival, or to suggest to a school that they might include Paganism in their lessons. It’s an even bigger step to volunteer yourself as an example.
As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I do this is because I’ve seen it done so damned badly that I at least want to represent my Druidry with honesty and understanding. It’s far easier to find common ground on which to start a discussion than turn up in yards of purple velvet, dripping with pentagrams and demanding respect ‘or else’. Many people have told me that they’re grateful for this approach, glad that someone is doing what I (and many others) do. They don’t see the nerves beforehand, my sheer confusion at some of the questions I’ve been asked, or what’s behind my smile. Often it’s just an inner voice wondering ‘How on earth can you ask someone that?’ But I still do my best to answer. Never be afraid to ask questions; just remember I’m human too!
A Druid in normal clothes is far more startling, in my experience, than one in robes. The robes are a uniform, I find, indicating that you are performing a public role. The everyday clothes are the truth, the familiar, the comfortable… and the starting point. Yes, I’m just another person. We both live on this planet, there’s far more to it than meets the eye… whatever connection you find, it’s there. Even the most hardline right-winger (whinger?) can sometimes be surprised out of their secular complacency.
So how are your ‘normal clothes’ inspiring others? How does your Pagan practice merge with your everyday life to provide a good and honest example of yourself and your fellow practitioners to the Muggle world?
I’ve usually found folk to be more curious than antagonistic about ‘alternative spirituality’. It’s easy to hide behind The Internet when making fun of something (especially in ignorance or fear) – but I’m out there in person too, talking face-to-face. It’s a lot harder to make childish statements when looking at the subject of the joke (although it does happen), but then it’s equally easy to smile and laugh at yourself rather than take offence. Then engage the person in conversation gently, find that common ground and see where the discussion goes.
We are Druids. We try to inspire, to rekindle the magic. You get a lot more accomplished with friendly chat than with flaming argument.
And incidentally, regarding the actual topic of the aforementioned articles? I do think that religion should be taught in schools, but with equal weighting as other subjective and evolving information, such as history or science (controversial?).
I’m very much against censorship, but do firmly believe that students should be given the tools with which to disseminate and understand the information they are given, rather than simply learning it to a set agenda, or (as the current ‘A’ levels are in the UK) as memory tests. Freedom of information means having the skills to utilise that information, rather than knee-jerk. Philosophy should be taught once again, potentially causing the furore that it did in Ancient Athens – imagine if schoolchildren were encouraged to question, to dig deep for meaning and comprehension, to have the mental equipment with which to make their own choices…
Perhaps if there were greater urge to seek truth, understanding and more than just a soundbite – and for journalists to inform and inspire rather than rabble-rouse – those articles would have been written very differently.
Today has been busy. I’ve been working on the events surrounding my forthcoming book, updating handfasting ceremonies, planning tomorrow’s workshop, pondering Book 2…
Then I sat down to have a much-needed tea-break, and found this waiting to be watched: ‘Chaplains: Angels of Mersey‘.
There really isn’t much about religion of any sort on television these days. With the need for equality, the media seems fairly nervous of even mentioning faith issues, for fear of offending somebody – which leaves very little in the way of information about any spiritual path (or the need for spirituality at all).
The stories of these chaplains, practical Priests in their communities, were absolutely inspiring.
I love hearing the tales of working priests. I’ve been almost assaulted in the past by lady vicars wanting to make friends, curious monks, confused academics – all with a story to tell, and eager to hear mine in turn. It’s a listening profession, after all, but with so much give and take, generosity and real heart, I feel quite privileged to be a subject of interest, and am fascinated by them in turn.
A lot of the stories are familiar. In these programmes, I’ve seen an Anglican vicar trying to engage students at a Freshers Fair; a hospital chaplaincy helping in a time of crisis; street pastors busy with Saturday night drunks.
I’ve got my own stories, of course. I’m sure they’d be of great interest to documentary-makers, but I’m only interested in media insofar as it allows me to show the wider public that Pagan Priests exist at all – that we’re there to help if needed. Certainly not to garner ‘fame’ (or notoriety) or pander to egos.
This makes me realize, every time, that my constant question is still there for me as well.
What Am I Doing?
Ultimately, I’m one person, sitting here, tapping away with a sleeping dog beside me, on the afternoon of Good Friday. A relatively quiet day. Yet busy with the list of tasks above, and more besides. Life is certainly interesting right now!
Please note: this is not (and never has been) about publicising myself. It actually occurred that I would probably be happy to give my book away for free to those who expressed interest – although my publisher would scalp me, and probably my bank manager too.
It’s about living as I promised. I’m out there, living my faith in my community (physical and virtual) in order to help others, whether Pagan, Christian, atheist, whatever. That was my choice, and I stand by it.
However, I’ve noticed that Paganism generally seems to have become a very insular spirituality. While folk do seek others of like mind to meet up and chat, in pubs or at Camps, generally their practise is kept private, at home or in quiet places outside, alone. This may be due to fear of ridicule, actual need for secrecy because of misunderstanding, or just a preference for a solitary mode of worship; I’ve no problem with that at all. Ultimately, any conversation that you have with deity is just the two of you.
But is that doing us, as a faith-based community, a disservice? Is our self-imposed isolation stifling our spirituality, rather than allowing it to flourish in the real world?
I’m not suggesting we get out on the streets with leaflets, or knock on doors with copies of ‘Pagan Dawn.’ I’m asking how you express your faith outside of the safety of your own home/room/head-space. My Druidry lives in the places of darkness and difficulty as well as love and light.
For the last few months, I’ve been asking members of The Druid Network to send stories of any community projects they may be involved in. I’ve had very few replies.
I’ve asked local Pagan Federation members for ideas on meet-ups and events, to help our regional community. Again, virtual silence.
Yet my inbox has messages every day from people asking for information, meetings, events, a need for connection with others. It seems that everyone wants something provided for them as Pagans (Wiccans/Druids/Heathens/etc)… but nobody wants to be the instigator. Nobody is willing to stand up and live their faith publicly, to help others, or even just to inspire by their work or creativity. Apathy is easier than hard work.
Except, of course, for myself and the others who do. Some of whom slowly slide into the background again after a time, fed up of the politics of the wider Pagan world, with its egos and challenges; others who have been called ‘media tarts’ simply for standing up to represent their Paganism.
I have also noticed that those who shout others down, be it with anger or mockery, rarely stand up themselves to do the hard work. It’s easy to put on the appropriate garb and join in at a large gathering, or get vocal behind the veil of an internet group, but when a Priest is called upon to teach, minister a service or provide chaplaincy during a life crisis, those loud voices suddenly go quiet.
I know it’s difficult. Trust me, I know. Public Priesting is not at all for everyone.
But it’s not so difficult to get out and honour yourself and your Gods by quiet actions in the world. An allotment or orchard project to bring pleasure to others and food to your family. Litter-picking as you take the dog for a walk, or the kids to school. Even volunteering to help your local space, be it Neighbourhood Watch, local environmental groups or charity work. Consider how best to connect your faith to your life, and do it. Take responsibility, rise to a self-imposed challenge. Be adventurous, explore – find your own quest!
Both The Druid Network and The Pagan Federation exist because of and for their members. Neither is about hierarchical religion or dogmatic dictat; they’re simply there to help. There are local equivalents – get in touch, make contact, grow that community. If you don’t like it, tell why, instigate change, add your voice to the song.
Paganism is incredibly diverse – that’s one of the reasons I’m attracted to it. I may not understand everyone’s point of view, but I do my best to respect it, and not be afraid to ask to find out more. We all make up a kaleidoscopic picture, each working in their own way to represent themselves and their spirituality. How are you a part of that? How are you moving it forward – and how is it moving you forward?
I love to hear stories of these journeys too.