Posts Tagged question

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.

Advertisements

Comments (8)

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?

Comments (4)