Faith, Truth and Media

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.

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8 Comments »

  1. Blodeuwedd said

    Hi, Cat
    I would like to say first that I agree with almost all that you have said in this post. I have read both of the articles you referenced and I agree entirely with your views of them. My spiritual path is extremely diverse and fluid but I am currently beginning an exploration of Druidry which I am finding very exciting!
    I would, however, like to say something about your comments on education. I was an RE teacher for over 20 years and am currently (amongst other things) a senior examiner. I have taught RS, Philosophy and Critical Thinking at A level. I really cannot agree that the current system (at least in those statements) requires only memory and not critical thought. The evaluation question in the GCSE with which I am involved involves a high level of analysis and critical thinking. When I was teaching I tried (and I like to think succeeded) in encouraging independent and rational thought in my pupils at every level, encouraging them to challenge every assumption…includidng what I taught them. The current structure for RE is excellent (although the current government is doing a fair job of undermining it!) and there are some great teachers out there encouraging just the skills that you mention.

    Whilst I was irritated by what the telegraph had to say about Paganism, which showed a lamentable lack of research and undersatnding, I was even more concerned by the lack of understanding of modern RE.

    Sorry to ramble on so long πŸ™‚

    Jenny

    • druidcat said

      Thank you so much for your words, Jenny.

      I really am glad that teachers/examiners such as yourself are out there! I spoke only from personal experience, both in my schooldays and from the stories of others (both children and parents) in education now. It’s true that you can’t tar all schools with the same brush, nor did I intend to. My concern is that I know youngsters who’ve coasted through exams due to their memory skills, teachers who’ve misadvised those who are scared of exams away from coursework-based modules, and education generally perceived as something to suffer through as a tick-box exercise. To be honest, I’ve seen this in the modern workplace as well, but more do seem to be seeking alternatives, encouraging the intellectually bright as well as those with more practical skills (for example). Nobody seems to know what to do with subjects like RE! Quite a few authority figures who should know better are discouraging questions and independent thought, but I’m sincerely glad there are those, like you, out there wanting to shake things up a bit! I truly do hope this bears fruit. Thank you, deeply, for being such a good teacher; your value is greater than gold.

      I’ll be overjoyed, frankly, if the system is encouraging critical thinking and independent thought – this has been on my mind a lot lately, as I wonder what the current curriculum makes of the comparative morals of reality TV and current Young Adult fiction (eg ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent’, etc). I was thrilled to speak to (High/Senior School age) students on a Multifaith day a while ago, discovering how clever, interested and engaged they were once I spoke to them like people rather than ‘children’. I’ll be intrigued to see what the next generation of journalists, creatives and consumers have to say.

      • Blodeuwedd said

        Thank you for that. One of the things I was most proud of when I was teaching was organising and Inter-Faith day for the whole school, with quizzes run by the sixth form; workshops and speakers from many faiths (including Paganism) I also had a ‘question time’ like event for the sixth form with a panel made up by representatives of several faiths. I was impressed by the attitude of the students to the visitors and the quality of questions they asked.

        I suggest that you look at OCR’s specifications, particularly B and C….they might answer some of your questions! http://www.ocr.org.uk
        Jenny

  2. Alan said

    A refreshing well written piece. I do agree that yards of purple velvet, hair garlands and staffs give a stereotypical view of modern Druidry and paganism. So do cliches, sorry Cat, such as in “Muggle world” a phrase borrowed from The Harry Potter books which in my opinion instantly reduces everything you have so eloquently espoused into a children’s magical tale. I have also heard similar references for others of a different mindset referred to as “The Normals” which many may percieve as derogatory or give a sense that magical /mystical/understanding belong to the select and definitely not muggles or normals, thus alienating huge numers of people. Which leads me on to an oral tradition, one that I that I was interested in for a while until I read that that particular branch of oral tradition had the idea of bringing out a book to promote their faith. Confusion, hypocrisy, power hungry or greed? I don’t know.
    Trainers,jeans, normal jobs and mature statements may go a long way in bringing forth the Druid world into mainstream thought if that is what you all desire. If you desire more or are power hungry or wish to save the world I feel there will be a huge disappointment on all sides. At the end of the day we are just humans doing the best we can.
    Thanks for the blog and good luck in all that you do.

    • druidcat said

      Thank you, Alan. I never intend to insult in my blog posts (I’d be much clearer if I was!) – ‘Muggle’ is a term I rather like, to add a little tongue-in-cheek humour to my topic. One of the points of my Druid practice is that there really isn’t a line between the ‘normal’ and ‘magical’ worlds (as it were) – we are indeed just humans doing our best. But we live in a world that loves to categorise. A lot of what I do is trying to elaborate on and explain my spirituality beyond those taglines to those who are interested, which is, perhaps, a losing battle… until I see others inspired to investigate the world a little more deeply for themselves as a result.

      Incidentally, I really don’t try to ‘promote’ my faith. When people ask questions, I answer. I don’t try to force my beliefs on others, as each person’s worldview is their own. And there’s far more to be gained from a conversation with me than a brief blog post – so that may count as finding a balance between the ancient ‘oral’ tradition and the modern methods of storytelling!

      Thanks again for sharing. Lots to think on there.

  3. Alan said

    I find it interesting that you use modern media such as Harry Potter and the Hunger Games as inspiration for your interaction with young people. In my experience of young people they have been moved and impacted more by studying Birdsong and The Great Western Front, real life tradegy and suffering rather than mass produced works of fiction and an attempt at improvised moral teaching. Much to think on. Thanks

    • druidcat said

      I’m just glad that there’s quality fiction out there, and that people are reading it. The stories that resonate and live on will always do so for a reason, far after the marketing hype is over – from Tolkien, to CS Lewis, to Alan Garner, to JK Rowling…

      If fiction such as Faulks is grabbing young people too, that’s excellent. I always used to look beyond the ‘kids’ section of the library – but now I find it fun to go back there once in a while! Again, flexible boundaries.

      I’m actually reminded of something that was illustrated to me as part of my English degree years ago – the Marx Brothers’ movies being more enduring and popular than the ‘high art’ they lampooned, because while simpler, in their way they were truer reflections of the everyday. The stories we love are insidious indeed… πŸ™‚

  4. joannavdh said

    Yes, thankfully the media are not asking such silly questions anymore, and especially after TDN won the charitable status, it seems to have gotten more serious, less sensational (at least Druidry here in the UK). I’ve been approached by the media, who want to discuss ritual, and when I tell them that my normal rituals, my seasonal celebrations don’t have any “dress up” element, they weren’t interested. This was six years ago, and I haven’t had a similar request since. They either wanted a media piece in full gear, or nothing at all. Times, they are a-changing! x

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