Posts Tagged challenge

Unity

Right, be warned, folks. The following post contains jokes that may be seen as contentious. They aren’t intended as offensive, but to challenge and provoke thought. Comments are, as always, very welcome, but I’d rather have debate than argument. No abusive behaviour will be tolerated.

Still with me? Lovely.

Today, the lovely blogger Mrs B posted up her ‘Question of the Day’ on Twitter: ‘What’s the most frustrating part about being Pagan?’

I’m certain this received some colourful responses, but let’s face it, being a public (or even just ‘out’) Pagan is not all sweetness and light; nor should it be, especially if you’re living in the real world. Interesting to see what people say.

I responded in jest: ‘Surely the weekly requests for Guru-style teachings from those unwilling to make any effort whatsoever…?’

This is an old bugbear of mine, as some of you will know. It’s inevitably become worse since my book became popular and known, and it’s not actually something I object to – as I’ve often said, I’m happy to help and advise, and would rather questions be asked than suppressed because of fears of Appearing Stupid.

Frustration arises (as I’m sure any social, spiritual or psychological advisor will agree) when seekers appear seeking ‘quick fix’ teachings or help. When they discover they have to play an active and responsible hand in their own life-changes, they often then vanish quickly. The degree of time-wasting involved in such cases is variable, but this seems to be just something which happens – again, as a public/out Pagan.

‘Gerald Gardner’ (also a fairly ironic Tweeter) responded with a very thought-provoking reply: ‘Unfortunately modern Paganism still breeds these people because we lack unity in order to make progress.’

Now there’s an intriguing statement.

First off, is this an inevitable symptom or consequence of modern Paganism being the way it is? Is this over-simplifying, or describing with an overly-broad generalisation? Or is there a point here?

A while ago, I agreed to write an article about Pagan Leadership for a UK publication. It’s been germinating away, as I consider the evolution of this topic since Gardner himself first put pen to paper back in the 1950s. We’ve come a long way.

I said at Pagan Pride this year – while addressing several dozen people under a huge and beautiful tree in Nottingham’s Arboretum (surrounded by about a thousand more going about their business as public Pagans) – that such an event would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. Out and proud or just local and curious, Pagans are a social group to be counted. The Census issue has proved this, as has the publicity surrounding The Druid Network‘s Charity status.

But Paganism is essentially still finding its way. It is made up of many disparate groups, with leadership based around those who stand up to take on the job. Paganism is inherently tribal. From the multitude of beliefs, to the shading within those faith paths, even different local characters – ‘Pagan’ will never be as simple and clear-cut a spirituality as one of the more mainstream religions.

I’ve seen full-on arguments about whether Paganism is even a religion (not getting into that today, thanks). What qualifies someone to be a Pagan Priest. How ‘valid’ is Paganism. All the old questions, that boil down to ‘who do you think you are?’ We aren’t taught philosophy these days; complex ethical questions can be tricky. It’s far easier to get passionate and kick out/back.

We are a generation that challenges, that has the confidence to speak out – and this is no bad thing. We are curious, willing to explore, to ask those questions that need asking. I’m a firm believer that any religion has to be able to stand up to scrutiny (and to have the strength to laugh at itself). My old Catholic RE teacher was quizzed by me on numerous occasions, and even the response of ‘ultimately, we don’t know – but I just have faith that it’s true’ is absolutely valid… and yet for some, that’s not enough. But that leads into fundamentalism, which is also not a topic for today.

I’ve been flamed online before for suggesting that faith paths have more in common than they do difference. To mel, this is because we are all humans, trying to make sense of the world. Again, those who follow the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ path don’t like that, because it stymies the ‘Us/Them’ arguments that hold them up, but I think I’m safe in that simple truth.

The difficulty with Paganism is that it’s a group with a label – which is made up of very individualistic people. Some wish to come together to learn, socialise, whatever, and that’s fine. They still retain their individuality. Others wish to remain solitary in their practice. Both will fight tooth and claw to do this (and rightly so). This all leads to the difficulty of a truly ‘Pagan’ unity or identity. We are a faith like no other. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this has been seen before: no doctrine or set text, no hierarchy… and an awful lot of unproductive bitching as personalities collide. But that’s humanity for you.

As I’ve said before, the issue of leadership seems to be one where Priest (as spiritual servant) clashes with Priest (as Power Tripper). Those willing to teach, to pass on skills and information, versus those seeking authority over others. Obviously this isn’t just a Pagan thing, but it’s there, a problem to be acknowledged and worked upon. How are we, as Pagans, represented – and how do we wish ourselves represented? The fact that we’re talking about it, having a public voice, means that we’re out there in the world, with no going back.

(I’m pretty sure that because I can string words together and speak about my spirituality openly, some do think that I have ultimate cosmic secrets that I can tell, which will then make their lives better. I have yet to encounter any way of life that holds such information. Sorry about that.)

While simplifying a little, Spiritual seekers – as I’ve seen them – are Genuinely Curious (willing to learn) versus Quick-Fix Answers (abdicating responsibility). Both are fearful; some are braver than others. Again, very human.

The positive thing about Paganism that I’ve perceived is that it takes all of these groups (good or bad) and challenges them. I’m not sure that any are ‘bred’ to act a certain way, but a decent Pagan path will make practitioners prove their worth, to their supporting spirits, ancestors, deities and immediate community. Why? Because unlike a lot of other faiths, we aren’t actually interested in converting anyone. We aren’t out for numbers. We’re just out to do our thing, our way. That’s enough, most days.

Every single life path requires you, as the one living it, to play an active part. This is a key tenet of my Druidry. If I were just paying lip-service to it, I’d be caught out in no time. I’m happy to admit things that I don’t know, and am always seeking out new and interesting information (hey, I’m a bookworm). I’m also entirely happy for others to live and practice in a way that best suits them – so long as they don’t mind questions either, should they be asked.

I doubt Paganism will ever have its figurehead, its ‘one true leader’ – we’re too individual, and yet too tribal as well. Eclecticism has become the norm. We have taken traditions and evolved, adding our own ideas, our particular shadings to the overall picture, our notes to the song. And this, I believe, is what makes Paganism so wonderful. We do (really!) have a unity… it’s just something we haven’t really quite got to grips with yet. Wild as nature, and as varied, after all, constantly fluctuating as we test its boundaries – and our own.

So. Are we working together in our differences yet…? And how much do those seekers really want to be part of a spirituality that can be felt in its evolution as it’s happening?

Is it worth it? Well it’s hard some days, for sure. But that just makes life interesting. I’m still here, after all. Coming with me?

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The Raven’s Eye

Yesterday, I wrote a post on the topic of ‘Sacrifice’. It’s been taken down now, for various reasons, but mainly that it was perhaps too ambiguous – a large topic either needs a broad area for discussion, or something simpler, more personal.

But I’ve been thinking, deeply, on both that subject and the wider aspects of communicating such amorphous concepts. Which is, essentially, what this blog does. I’ve made it my duty to do it as well as I can.

So this is just one tiny page of one person’s thoughts. Challenged to write from my heart, to sing my own song, I call on the Awen to flow once again…

As a Druid, I’m often asked about ‘making the sacrifice’. It’s something people ‘know’ about our ancestors, that image of the robed figure with knife held high above a stone table. That may be the story, but what’s the reality?

To me a Sacrifice is a sacred gift, given to reflect and maintain balance. Offered with love and some regret, it should be missed – and therein lies the value. The relationship between given and giver, the connection, the story told in the history of that act and its future consequences: a sacrifice is neither simple, nor isolated. Responsibility and intention are presented and received in turn. And we move forward.

The first, or last, taste of food or drink – the gift of Life.
Time and energy – the gift of Knowledge.
Tears – Strength.
Life – Love.
Blood – Life.
Pain – Healing.

I give my words to you all, here. My efforts, time, thoughts and integrity, sacrificed on the altar of free information – not ultimate truth, in any way, but my own truth. I can do no more.

I learn from what comes as a result of these words, as others read and respond. It’s not about ego, not at all, but about inspiration, sharing, adding one voice to an overarching melody. I work hard to make that sound true, with so much discordant squawking out there. The topic becomes less important, as I struggle to make the words reflect my thoughts, to create understanding, not confusion. I have no idea who will read these words – the sheer audacity of believing that it will be of interest at all is huge, but I can’t think about that. It’s a challenge, but I can’t be overwhelmed by the unknown. It’s just me, here, typing my intention.

I make my own sacrifices daily, feeling it become more difficult as I get older. To my loved ones, my Gods, my ancestors, family of blood and spirit – and to complete strangers, those who approach me to simply ask. These words are just one example.

We’re all human, reluctant to give up what we’ve worked for, to expose ourselves to ridicule. But we have to make that connection, to do what matters – or we’re simply isolated, alone and confused, and fooling ourselves, refusing to feel, blocking our own senses. We receive as we give (as a wiser person said).

What sacrifices do you make in life? Not necessarily through obligation, but voluntarily – not always easily, but willingly?

The cost and reward of Sacrifice? Love, bravery and honesty. A Druid Triad, perhaps – or it could be just my mutterings…

Dedicated, with love, to that Son of Odin whose wisdom I hold dear. The Raven’s song may be harsh, but it always carries meaning x

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Looking Forward

This weekend, my partner and I journeyed South(ish) to meet up with my fellow Trustees of The Druid Network at our Annual General Meeting. While wonderful to spend time socially with folk who have become good and true friends over recent years (despite being scattered around the country), it was a time for work, for focused intention and decision. Where would our Druidry take us over the coming year, and where do we see the Network going into the future?

Now as this is a personal blog, I won’t be going into too much detail about the organisation. Visit The Druid Network website for more information; members can see the Minutes and Actions from the meeting.

But suffice to say, my thoughts of recent weeks seemed to coalesce in this organised setting. This year is now starting to really move as the earth around us wakes up to Spring (in this hemisphere at least), and the energy is rising accordingly. A lot of ideas sprang forth as we inspired each other, with shared goals, motivations and awareness of representing a larger number of people.

However, as I call myself ‘Druid’, I cannot possibly represent everyone who does likewise. Nor can any group, however inclusive. This is why the Network appeals to me – each and every person involved, whether they call themselves ‘Druid’ or some other term (if any) brings their own unique individuality to bear as part of a larger whole. A book of many themes, a picture of many colours. Nobody will be told how to practise their own faith. Challenged and questioned, yes, but that comes as part and parcel of the Druid deal!

Both I and my colleagues have to maintain awareness of that larger community, and gauge the needs and restrictions of the wider world that we work within. While our own personal practice may (and should) be individual, Druidry includes an awareness of the currents in which we flow. The world is moving forward and so are we. How are we setting our course within that?

No faith can remain static, or it stagnates. Paganism especially, as a relatively ‘new’ practice (despite its heritage) is still finding its feet, working hard to be recognised in an increasingly secular and cynical world, but also determining practical purpose. It’s all very well to call for ‘world peace’, but how are we helping that? If we spend our lives arguing and complaining, we’re working against our own dream, right there. Loudly proclaiming what we are not doesn’t really help us find what we are.

We have to stand as examples of our faith, our belief, our truth, while constantly challenging it to ensure that it remains relevant as we and the world change and grow. As I’ve said, people are coming to those public Pagan figures more and more often, whether to just shyly ask a question or to outright ask to be helped. Those of us who stand up have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes from that.

So where are the tides of 2012 (and beyond) taking us? More people are becoming interested in what this ‘Druidry’ thing is, as they wake up to the need to question and explore in order to find a little personal meaning in a fast-paced and busy life that seems almost dictated: birth, school, work, marriage, children, death. There’s so much more than that, as we’re all finally realizing. The old systems are failing; those institutions that we relied on so much aren’t giving back what they promised. We’re driven to look deeper.

Druidry doesn’t offer ‘all the answers’. No religion does – or if it does, it may be embroidering the truth just a little (yes, science, I’m looking at you too). The answer is different for every person. A hard concept to grasp, but true.

How do you live your life? That’s up to you. But to live it with awareness of your own needs and those within a wider community, as part of a family, bloodline, group of friends, neighbours, citizens, species, ecosystem… there’s so much more than we are told. We’ve grown afraid, then selfish, insular. It’s time to be brave and step up.

The Druid is an explorer as well. One who knows that if there’s a map, it may be wrong, but that’s ok – we’ve got paper and pen. And this map won’t just be visual: it’ll encompass all the senses, including that mental and spiritual awareness that science hasn’t really explored yet.

The ancient Druids filled so many roles in their communities. Ultimately, us modern Druids do our best for those we serve – both those official ‘members’ and everyone else who comes asking. We do this with awareness of the flows of life, the wider world (geographical, social, political, historical), with our feet on the ground but also between the worlds, known and unknown. Our faith sustains us: in ourselves and those who stand and walk with us, human and non-human, past, present and future.

Ultimately, we are human too, of course. And this thing called ‘Druidry’ means that we recognise our shared humanity, our connection, our similarities and differences. And with that, we chart a course, establish our aims, and move forward. It’s not about ‘quick fixes’, it’s about evolution.

We don’t know what will come, but we’ll ride it, whatever it is, doing our best: to represent, to serve, to bear witness, to guide. To live with honour and truth, as individuals within a larger Universe.

We can’t know it all, but we can learn to laugh and dance (and pause for tears) as we undertake our journies, both alone and together.

That ‘second star to the right’ is closer than we think.

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Druidry of the Future

As the rate of technological advancement increases (while basic human understanding follows in its wake), we find ourselves looking increasingly to the future, the ‘what next’. We’re in the 21st Century, after all; doesn’t that milestone mean something?

Instead, we find ourselves caught on one hand with the result of that inevitable implosion of capitalist demand, wondering what happened when our desire for Stuff NOW outweighed our interest in how those were obtained, when our concern for mass media overtook any interest in basic democratic process (‘X-Factor’ versus elections, anyone?). And on the other, that ‘End of the World’ mentality surrounding mis-knowledge of the significance of 2012 as a date of universal significance, as we ¬†combine our inherent search for meaning in life with muddled New Age misunderstanding – and end up running our lives by the fictional astrology of the tabloid press.

Yes, this post is going to challenge.

My constant question is ‘what are you doing?’ and ‘why?’ How often do we challenge ourselves, really? Not just when there’s a major decision to be made, but all the time. Why are you using that cleaning product with the warning on the back ‘Will cause damage to the water table?’ Why wash yourself in something that contains formaldehyde? Why take the media perspective on events in the world as entirely true and unquestionable?

We’ve somehow turned the important questions of everyday modern living into something that’s ‘boring’. Environmentalism is to be sneered at in favour of consumerism (who’s putting that idea out?). Cynicism allows us to shrug and turn away instead of probing more deeply.¬†I’m hopeful that you’re still reading, rather than just rolling your eyes at yet another rant. Bear with me.

There is so much going on in the world today that it’s impossible to truly investigate or understand it all. This is why we have to really prioritise, to figure our where we are and what’s important to us – but in relation to the wider world, that we are part of (like it or not). This is a challenge that we will have to face moving forward, but which we are not trained for. It’s up to us to learn how best to do it

As the world changes, so we are starting to realize that previous ways of living and viewing don’t work anymore, that they don’t aid our understanding. We are looking deeper. But that requires us to take on a level of responsibility and understanding that some folk just aren’t ready (or equipped) to take on. That’s fully understandable – as I said, we can only process so much within our worldview as it evolves and as we grow.

So what is the role of the Druid in all of this? The Priest of the past, the ancient philosopher, law/lore-keeper, storyteller, intermediary… why is this still relevant?

The fact that people are still coming to me (and other ‘public’ Druid folk) in every-increasing numbers indicates that what we do is wanted. Initially yes, it’s often the idea that we have some sort of mystical ‘answer’ as to how to live (we do, but you might not like it, because it requires that you do active work too). But it’s the urge to understand how our spirituality creates a path for active living, connection, relationship, responsibility and understanding through constant challenge and awareness… that’s a big lifestyle change to assimilate. Being curious is an excellent start, though, and I am constantly glad that more and more people are overcoming their apprehensions and simply talking to me (and others who Druid).

But what, then, are we to become, moving forward?

A couple of years ago, I was part of a group that performed a divination ritual for Druidry in the coming years. Believe it or not, we identified the complacency that more Paganism has somehow arrived at, the inevitable shake-ups that will occur (within the Pagan faiths and the wider world) and the need for change to allow us to evolve and remain active and relevant.

That change? To work together.

There’s been a lot of talk recently in the blogosphere about what makes a ‘proper’ Druid. It’s good that folk are talking, but the difficulty for me comes at source. We as humans are drawn to both a need for community to reinforce our beliefs, and individuality – to be ‘special’ and unique. Yes, we all have our own subjective views on life, the universe and everything, and that’s wonderful. However, the challenge is bringing those together to make a cohesive pattern, rather than an argumentative mess.

Division in Druidry (and any other group based on belief) is inevitable. With the inherent urge to challenge, as stated, comes the unavoidable response of Pissing People Off. Not everyone will like what you have to say, or that you’re standing up to say it at all, but in speaking your own truth honourably, after much consideration and debate, not everyone will agree.

In the ancient poem ‘The Spoils of Annwyn’, one of the challenges to be faced by Arthur on his quest (and so the reader who works with the text) is facing down the ‘six thousand who stand atop the walls’ of Caer Goludd, those who prevent him from moving on with their shouts that drown out his words. He who stands up to speak/object most loudly runs the risk of getting his head shot off – the general ‘masses’ don’t understand and fear change or challenge, and so find it easier to settle back down into their comfortable rut (as above). We all know what this feels like.

But the role of the Druid is to continue to stand – and for those others who call themselves thus to stand together, to support each other and those who come to us, those we serve. Divided, we are just little groups (or individuals) talking – no bad thing in itself, as any words these days can have value if enough people listen. Together, however, united in common intention (if not the subtleties of individual practice), we can be recognised and, quite simply, accomplish more.

Not everyone is prepared to do this, and that’s understandable too. But those who do stand up to be recognised against those dissenting masses deserve to be listened to. Question or challenge, certainly, as this increases understanding on both sides. But do NOT dismiss out of hand, take for granted or simply ignore. For you will be left poorer for it.

I speak my words, from the cauldron of Inspiration

By the breath of nine maidens it is kindled

It will not provide the food of a coward, but a sword will be raised, flashing bright.

We move forward to the door, where a lamp is burning.

Save seven, none return.

Who’s with me?

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