In a blog post this past June, I wrote about questioning our spiritual path in a piece entitled “To Be or Not to Be”. I call myself a Druid, as I follow the path of Druidry. I celebrate alone and in groups, go to festivals and work as a priest in my community. I touched briefly upon the matter of how others do not define my path for me, but lately I’ve been rethinking this, turning it over in my mind and looking at it from different angles.
As usual, at this time of year with large open pagan rituals being conducted at various sites, the media have gotten hold of any Druid or Pagan they can find to talk about what it is that Druids or Pagans do, why they do it and so on. Some journalists are there simply to mock the Druids and other Pagans, some are there to genuinely attempt to inform their readers of something new to them, to inform them of other worldviews. The media know a number of “prominent” pagans, those who regularly make the papers for various reasons: they shout the loudest, they dress up in full regalia, they only work at “popular” ancient monuments. It can be disheartening to constantly see these people being courted by the media, when their views are so different from one’s own. This is what has gotten me thinking this past week, working through issues of anger and frustration.
I wrote about sacred spaces in another blog post for SageWoman Magazine’s channel at Witches and Pagans. It was so disappointing to see Druids and other Pagans working in the midst of litter and those who were not in tune with the ritual intention of those for whom it was a sacred site and a special day. It was sickening to see those who called themselves Druid standing proud in their regalia with litter at their feet, not picking any of it up. I personally cannot imagine working in those conditions. Some may not mind, however, embracing simply the fact that they are participating at a very popular event in an ancient place, regardless of the conditions. Though there was litter all over Stonehenge this past summer solstice, Pagans were also amongst those in the clean-up crew as well as the all night celebration/party. But why should there be a clean-up crew in the first place? Would we throw litter inside Norwich Cathedral?
The media is currently rife with new articles about what is happening at popular pagan sites here in the UK with the autumn equinox just past, and people that the journalists associate with the festival and sacred sites. For the most part, the people these articles are about are so unlike myself, with such different worldviews that I question whether I do indeed follow the same spiritual path as they – how can we both be followers of the Druid Way? How can I relate myself to some people who allow litter in their ritual space, who allow others to stand on ancient monuments, whose policies on so many things (reburial of ancient human remains, etc) are so different from my own?
Some people within Druidry give themselves titles such as Arch Druid/ess, or King, etc. Many papers have recently reported on one king who they purport to be the “leader of the druids”. I sigh with frustration each time something like this is misreported. The Wall Street Journal mocks with headlines such as “Stonehenge Mystery: Will Druid King Get a Parking Space for His Kawasaki?” While I share their idea that such titles are absurd, I would argue that the creation of such titles are simply to attract media attention (amongst other reasons). I also see it as an opportunity for the media to mock Druidry and Paganism yet again, and wonder why on earth these people leave it wide open for the media to do so.
Time and again I have stated that the creation of any title within Druidry and indeed with any form of British Paganism relates only to the individual or group that has bestowed such a title. Druidry has no central authority, therefore, only a select group from a small section of Druidry support an individual who calls himself king, or a High Priestess of (insert name of town/group/goddess here). Pagans can create any title that they want, whether as individuals or as a group. This has absolutely no relevance, however, to anyone else in the Pagan community or to those outside the group. I am a Druid, and I have no king. There is not a single Arch Druid/ess that has any sort of power, rank or authority over anything that I do. They may be more prominent in the media however, and this is where the basis of the frustration occurs. They are representing a large portion of the Pagan population, yet is it at all a major consideration for them? Is it simply posturing?
As with any group of humans, there will be posturing and issues of ego, admiration, adulation, hero worship, gurus, hierarchy and anarchy. There will also be those who genuinely live a life of service to their gods, their ancestors and to the land selflessly – and by this I mean those that have no ego involvement, so no need for media attention or public fame/recognition. There is so much work being done in the Pagan community by those who are utterly dedicated, yet receive nothing in return apart from the satisfaction of a life well-lived. It is to these people that I relate to, not the image of Druidry as presented in the media. Therefore, can I still call myself a Druid?
I suppose that Druidry is multi-faceted, in one regard. There are dedicated people who work with the ancestors, for whom belief in deity is not required, and who see it as a philosophy rather than a religion. Being a religious person myself, I see deity everywhere, yet the philosophical Druids can be closer to my own path than those whose words and actions are so against my own, yet for whom Druidry is a religion. There are animists whose views are in tune with mine, and others for whom I scratch my head in bewilderment. There are fellow supporters of reburial who work with honour and integrity for our ancient and not so ancient ancestors in true relationship, and there are those who say that they want vandalise displays by certain government and charitable bodies, in their fight for rights, working with violence in words and deeds. How can one path have so many different people walking it?
I suppose that using the path analogy, it becomes a little clearer (although this path is muddy at times). It is simply a way towards the divine or a way of being in the world that anyone can access, regardless of political persuasion, ethnic background, geography, financial wealth, etc. The path does not discriminate – it simply shows a way. It may have many offshoots into different parts of the forest, and many footprints over millennia by those who seek the wisdom of the oak.
It is this that keeps bringing me back to Druid, and Druidry, even when there are those who are so out of tune with my intention follow the same path. It is this analogy that eases the frustration somewhat.
Maybe I should just stop reading the papers.