Labels

This is my dog, Fen:

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He has an amazing vocabulary. He knows his name, certainly, also ‘dog’, ‘good’, ‘bad’ (plus numerous toy and food words). But he knows that ‘Fen’ = HIM.

He also knows that he’s my dog. And I’m his human. He knows mine and Himself’s names, so he can find us when asked.

As an English graduate, I was taught about words as a linguistic tool. The image above = Dog. Then, perhaps, Border Collie. You wouldn’t know his name until told, so you might ask for that information. But you’ve got enough to communicate about him from the image.

When we see Things, our brain throws up words to denote them, to fit them into our worldview so that we can understand. Different languages may be used. ‘Dog’ in English, other variations for other localities – but all describe a four-legged animal with a waggy tail.

We also use language to find familiarity. You might not look at me and think ‘human’, but your subconscious knows that. I’m female, according to my dress and body type. Initial greetings determine that I’m English (language), from a certain area of Great Britain (accent). Then we move to names and jobs…

Ah.

This is where we can go off the map and into unknown territory. Because my job isn’t ‘usual’, you see. ‘Druid’ is not a traditional working practice.

OK, It might be super-traditional in that it’s been going on for centuries, but in the 21st century, I doubt Druid Vacancies would appear on most job websites and unemployment agencies. It’s not what I put on my tax return.

Because I have to use conventional labels for Government documents. Author, Priest, Chaplain… understanding is achieved quickly by those words. And I am labelling myself, describing what I do for a living in a very simplistic manner. But it’s good enough, serving its purpose.

Labels are a necessary part of language, to aid understanding, to create a picture in your head. ‘Dog’ might not throw up the correct picture of Fen, but you’d be in the right area. You’d associate ‘Dog’ with the canine friend most familiar to you.

I know that some people, when they say ‘Druid’, think of me. This is lovely – but again, I’m perhaps just the Druid they know best. There are so many types, we might have to start using ‘breeds’ (as Fen is a Border Collie)! Wicca already does this, with its lineages. To an everyday person, however, Gardnerian or Alexandrian – what’s the difference? Understanding has been lost, because there’s no frame of reference.

And as with asking about Fen’s name and who he is, we have to enquire, to dig deeper. Some are fine with that, curious and genuinely interested; others less so. Druid might equate to ‘fluffy New-Ager’, for example (as ‘dog’ might equal ‘dangerous’). I’ve no way of knowing. ‘Priest’ can have any number of associations, positive and negative.

I’ve described myself as a ‘Druid’ for many years now. Recently, I’ve started saying that it’s the label that best describes my personal spiritual practice. I’ve been called a Dru-Witch in the past, because I sometimes cross those boundary lines. I’ve worked with Heathen deities. Does this matter?

To me, no. I do what I’m called upon to do. But to others, it can matter very much. Those labels are important, and we must stick to them.

The trouble is, that I personally find that impossible. We are so much more than just one single label. When I was told off for not calling myself a ‘PriestESS’ (I was ‘denying my femininity’, apparently), I had to laugh. Once a month, my womb reminds me how female I am, and my bosom does the same every time I go for a run! And this was a man telling me off…

I’ve seen some Pagans who cry out for Pagan Prisoners to be stripped of their ‘Pagan’ title. Who has the right to take our labels away? I would never claim that, just as I wouldn’t tell someone what label they should or shouldn’t be using. But I understand that some do not want to share a name (or any association) with a ‘criminal’. Because that’s a negative label.

‘Witch’ was a negative label too, for a very long time. ‘Druid’ as well. We can even get into the secular world – ‘homosexual’, for example. And going further back, ‘Christian’. All of these were criminal offences at one time or another.

‘Druid’ is the closest word to define quickly what it is that I do. But it is not the ultimate definition. In researching my next book(s), I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the limitations of Just One Word. So here’s a few more for me, in spiritual terms:

Pagan – follower of a recognised nature-based spiritual path

Druid – the specific tradition within Paganism, which I narrow down to ‘Priest of my homeland’

Witch – worker of magic to bring about a particular result

Mystic – someone who seeks a very deep connection with their god(s)

Psychometric – someone who gets impressions from the physical touch of particular items (since I was 14 or so). See also Empath

Seer – someone who receives images or visions of future events (again, since my teens)

Didn’t know all of those, did you?

I don’t wave them around, because it all lumps together into ‘me’, into ‘what I do’. Plus I’m still aware of that awful ‘closet’ status (ie it makes me want to run back into Narnia), whereby people challenge my experience because they can’t quite believe it.

I’ve been called a Shaman before. I agree that a lot of the above terms come under Shamanism, but I’m not sure it sits right with me.

I’m an honorary Wiccan (according to a third-generation Gardnerian friend!), but that REALLY p*sses off the traditional folk. So I keep that one quiet, because it requires a little humour.

And thereby comes the issue, really. Which labels are we comfortable using? Are others willing to engage enough to discover that I’m not a dangerous, scary Witch, just as Fen isn’t a dangerous, scary Dog?

Labels can be the gateway to understanding. Or they can be a prison. Let people explain what their words mean for them, before you start telling them what they can and can’t be.

Fen is a Dog. According to Baldrick from the TV show ‘Blackadder’, that means ‘Not a Cat’. But he’s happy sniffing (and being sniffed by) our new kitten. Dogs and cats can get along, and certainly wouldn’t try to tell each other what they can or cannot be. Because they know who they are, and are comfortable with that, while open enough to keep curious (until the claws come out when boundaries are breached!).

Perhaps as explorers of Nature-Based Spirituality, we can learn from Natural Reality as well.

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6 Comments »

  1. I so love this. I have an issue with people who say we shouldn’t label our selves. I am a pagan celtic witch. I am also gay! I’m a woman and I’m small. All labels that also give an insight to who I am and what I look like. These people who say we shouldn’t label ourselves have a name don’t they?! That is a label surely?! They will tick the appropriate box for gender. People get so hung up on issues of labels and forget WHY we have them!! We use labels all the time when we’re telling others about who we are. People need to get a grip and stop being so rediculous!

  2. Pagan Hare said

    Hahaha! Already said everything under my other blig ‘The Witchy Vegan’ 😄💖

  3. MonicaG said

    I’m “the vegan one” among my friends who always ask me and my hubby to bring our own food at our gatherings, and, I found out a few years back “la signora dei gatti” (I’m Italian) and as you can imagine it means “the cat lady” because of my 5 cats. And this is a label that I love because it really says more about me than everything else I can think of. They probably also use the word “crazy” before “car” and “lady” but didn’t tell me 😊

  4. Love this post topic. I hate labels because they limit us to that label, leaving no room for the many shades and hues of what a person is. Also, people (being human) tend to think they have to live up to a label, or at the least the other people around them think the label is all a person is. Thanks for this.

  5. Labels don’t bother me one bit! I know who I am and that is what matters?

  6. I belong to the Order of Christian Druids or “OCD”, which explains a lot about me. Excellent post~

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