Reciprocity and Druidry

Getting something for nothing is always a nice surprise. However, it is not always honourable.

Our Celtic ancestors took the idea of reciprocity and made it into their worldview. They gave back for what they had. In the Brehon laws, crimes had a price that had to be paid to the victim or to the victim’s family. Personal responsibility and recompense were regarded very highly in society.

In today’s day and age, these ideas have lapsed somewhat, even in pagan society. With the internet offering so much information for free (apart from broadband and electricity fees) we can gain a huge amount of information in a relatively short time with no expense other than our time. We can take in huge amounts of information and give nothing in return. Why should we, if it is all there and waiting for us, for free?

Take for instance The Druid Network. This is the website that really inspired me a decade ago to take up the path of Druidry, for in its pages and articles I found a deep resonance from like-minded people who shared their visions of Druidry. Since then the website has expanded immensely, yet is still a veritable font of information. All the articles are available for viewing for free, there are free courses offered through various members, books and cd reviews – you name it. All there, ready and waiting, and all free.

You can become a member of The Druid Network for £10 a year. Many, many people’s first question is “Yes, that’s nice, but what’s in it for me?” to which all of the above may not seem enough. Indeed, it could be a growing trend within paganism – people offering to become involved only if there is some personal benefit to them in the bargain. It would sometimes appear that being a part of something, or doing work for the sake of doing work, or in service to your path, is not quite enough these days.

Becoming a member of TDN now allows you to not only be a part of this great organisation and help to fund its continuing presence on the web, but also allows you to join a Druid only social network site, as well as receiving quarterly newsletters with info and articles written by other members. When I joined TDN all those years ago, there was a fledgling forum where people could discuss ideas, where members could talk to each other and share in their life’s journey and experience. To see it evolve into what it is today is quite remarkable. Yet for many, it is not enough.

This is where it all falls down for me, where I cannot understand some people’s viewpoint in that sites like TDN don’t offer enough to warrant a £10 a year membership. I find it astonishing that people can download all the articles and find celebrants, rituals, etc for free yet still do not want to contribute in any way. Nevermind that TDN now offer a brilliant social network site – what I don’t understand is why people just don’t want to give back.

Sites like TDN are reliant on the contributions from the Druid community. This is not only in monetary forms, but also in the shape of articles, ritual ideas, essays, etc. After reading all the articles on the site many, many moons ago, I felt motivated to write my own articles from what I had learned and from my own personal application and experience of the same, thereby giving back to the site that had provided me with so much (and still does to this day). However, long periods of time go by (sometimes years) before new material is submitted by its members. The numbers of members in TDN has grown considerably since TDN’s successful work in receiving charitable status as a religious network was achieved. Yet the input from members is sadly not in line with the growing numbers. Why should this be?

Any organisation is only as good as its members are – input is necessary for any network, pagan or otherwise, to survive. The TDN website underwent a couple of years of stagnation before the charity status decision due to lack of input from its members. No new articles had been written, no rituals, no info. Since the decision, there still hasn’t been that much new input from the growing membership. Even now, getting information for the quarterly newsletter can be like pulling teeth.

With so many members it should be easy to keep a wonderful site like TDN vibrant, fresh and informative. I appreciate that some members may be incredibly busy – however I also am aware that apathy exists within the pagan community that needs to be addressed. My words may seem harsh, but they are somewhat intended to be. I think that we as a pagan community need to stop sitting back and being fed information and start contributing to the community. Perhaps it is a product of our society, where it is so easy to just sit down in front of passive screen entertainment every evening and soak up information. What I suggest is that we get off our butts and start contributing, start giving back for all that we have received. Whether this is by joining TDN, writing articles for them, volunteering to be one of the website co-ordinators – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we take the idea of reciprocity seriously in our lives.

Organisations such as TDN are only as good as its members. TDN offers financial help for members who are looking for funding for Druid projects. Everything that they do is by volunteers – there is no paid staff, no hierarchies either. The number of people contributing and working for their Druidry and for TDN is severely disproportionate to the amount of people who are benefitting from this organisation. This isn’t right, in my opinion.

We cannot simply take and take without giving back. This is the reason why the world is in such a mess today. Our society and culture is one of greed, a greed that is not based out necessity. Ideas of reciprocity are left by the wayside. If we use TDN’s website, we should find a way to give back, whether that is financially, creatively or by volunteering. We apply the ideas of reciprocity in other aspects of our Druid lives – daily offerings and rituals, for instance. Why should we not apply that same idea to the teaching that we receive, the gifts that we are given for free in some cases? Why must we always feel that we need to acquire something in return?

It is our very act of giving that is the reward; it is the flow of awen. If we do not give, the awen cannot flow. It is that simple.

This article was written purely from my own personal viewpoint, and has had no input or sanction from TDN at the time of writing. All viewpoints are my own, and not necessarily those of TDN.

Pagan Apathy?

For a while now, I’ve noticed that on some official and public pagan groups there seems to be a lack of input from members – a lack of contribution, as it were.  It often makes me wonder why people take the time to become a member of something and then sit back and not want to participate in any shape or form.  I also fully understand those who are quietly learning, putting out feelers and coming to an understanding of their path, and thereby don’t feel that they can or should contribute.

What I have believed for a long time now is that everyone should have their say.  As in my previous post about honour, everyone has an inherent value.  What seems to be growing, however, in the pagan community is apathy when it comes to contributing to the whole.

Take for example The Druid Network. When I first joined many, many years ago it was a burgeoning place filled with new ideas and articles being contributed by people following every imaginable Druidic path. It was a veritable goldmine of information, and I spent weeks and months going through it, learning from it, reading new articles.  I was inspired, fully charged and wrote many articles for TDN myself return. Nowadays, I haven’t noticed any new articles at all – over the last couple of years the input seems to have dramatically decreased.  Why should this be?

With the collapse of the economy, I can understand that many people have to work harder just to keep their head above water. Then there is also the increase in social media, where information is being exchanged via Facebook and Twitter rather than in people taking the time to write their own articles about an issue.  I believe that the increase in passive screen entertainment as well has a lot to do with it – we are waiting for others to wow and dazzle us with their insights.  We have become a passive culture, in cushy armchairs or sacked out on the sofa waiting for life to come to us.

I also believe that more and more people are wanting to get something in return.  Membership to TDN, having access to their social media site and getting quarterly newsletters isn’t enough for some people.  A lot of people, when asking about membership for TDN, say “What’s in it for me?”  This is something that I think really needs to be addressed in paganism today.  We already live in a world full of me, me, me, I, I, I – we are already taking more than we need and giving very little in return.  We need to look at the bigger picture, and see Druidry and Paganism for what it is, and not for what it can give us.

Is it the introspective nature of Neo-Paganism that is causing this?  We must first heal ourselves before we can heal the world? We must look within before we look to others? I don’t believe this for a second, but this is just my personal opinion. Having been blessed with the curse of self-awareness, humans tend to forget that there is a much bigger world out there, and that they often don’t see the big picture.  The may believe that they see more than other creatures around them with this heightened sense of self-awareness, where in fact they have put on blinkers to everything by being so darned self-aware. If you are self-aware, how aware can you be of others and the world around you? How can you look outwards if you are always looking inwards?

I had to take a step back from TDN a few years ago, and retire as Trustee due to lack of time. I had just started my own dance company, and began writing again.  I currently have three jobs.  I haven’t been able to contribute to the newsletter, or offer any articles lately, but that is something which I aim to redress very shortly.  My giving back to the community comes in many shapes and forms, and I hope that I can offer TDN some of that again(in some shape or form), as well as what I currently do for Moon Books, SageWoman, my own personal practice and priestly duties.  I’ve never really thought about “what can this do for me” – I’m always wondering “what can I do for it?” and, though this sometimes makes me run ragged, I think is still a better way of being in the world, of contributing to it in a positive way.

Much as in group ritual, sometimes it is an absolute joy for a fellow priest to take a step back and simply enjoy the ceremony. However, to do this all the time is selfish.  We must find a balance between give and take. We must also realise that everything we do can be a participatory act, and not simply a passive one.  From ritual to prayer to memberships, what we do is more important that who we are.

Let us break the chains of apathy within the pagan community. Let us give of our inspiration, to inspire others, to share in the awen.  Contribute to your local moot, or pagan newsletter, or website.  Offer songs back to the land at twilight, and dance with the gods around the fire.  Know that you matter, that you have a say in your religion, your path or your philosophy.  Don’t sit back and watch it happen around you. Get up and turn the screen off, and get out there.  We are human beings – let’s bring the being back into it.  Shake off the shackles of passiveness and know that you can make a difference, in whatever form you may.  And most important of all, don’t let others do it for you.