Frustration, footprints and the media in Druidry

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.

The Grail Mysteries

The Grail Mysteries

Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman: My latest blog post for SageWoman…

These past few months I have been delving into Grail stories and mythology, looking for their inner messages and healing stories. I have been working with Jenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery and Inner Wisdom since September, and have just finished reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Crossing to Avalon: A Woman’s Midlife Pilgrimage.  There is a lot of resonance and wisdom in both these books, that has opened up my eyes to the Grail stories and also the wisdom of Avalon in ways I never could have dreamt of.

I had always been fascinated by the tales of Arthur and Morgan le Fey since I was a child. Stories of knights riding out on quest, of otherworldly women bestowing kingship, of wizards and wisemen, chivalry and courage and love all held a special place in my heart.  I had always wanted to visit Britain, to see the land that these stories contained – I never thought I would end up living there, but life has its twists and turns.

The Grail Mysteries are utterly fascinating.  What I am currently exploring is the figure of the Grail Maiden, the only one able to handle the blessed object.  Whether she is Pagan or Christian is of little consequence – what matters is that she is the one who is carrying it forth into the world.

The Knights of King Arthur’s court see a vision of the Grail, carried through his Great Hall by a Great Lady – some say Morgan herself, others the Lady of the Lake, or an angel.  This sends them into a frenzied search for the Grail – most of his knights take it upon themselves to find this holy object, winning it for themselves, for salvation or fame, freedom or a connection with the divine feminine. Little is said of the Grail Maiden after this – the attention is all bestowed upon the knights and their quests.

The Grail Maiden appears once again in the tales, when Perceval reaches the Fisher King.  This wounded king is reflected in his kingdom, which is barren wasteland.  Until the King is healed, the land cannot be healed.  What is most interesting is that the Grail is carried through his Court each and every day, and yet he cannot receive its healing properties. Two questions must be asked first in order for the King to be healed – “What ails thee?” and “Whom does the Grail serve?”.  Perceval, in an attempt to appear grand and unaffected, being now a ‘famous Knight of King Arthur’s Court on Quest’, does not question the wound on the King when he sees it, though he does notice it and wonder.  When the Grail is brought through the Court time and again in a repetitive procession throughout dinner, again Perceval ignores it, trying to appear nonchalant. In his refusal to show empathy or compassion, curiosity or care he loses his chance to heal the kingdom and also his chance at the Grail and the Divine Feminine. The Grail and castle disappear the next morning.

So, back to the Grail Maiden – why is it that a woman can only carry this vessel? Many will say that women are natural vessels of the Goddess, and this rings true enough.  In Arthurian tales, women are also the bearers of Sovereignty, also reflected in other tales from the land, such as the Welsh Mabinogian. The vessel is the source of the Divine Feminine, therefore it is fitting that is it borne by a woman. Women bear children, bringing new life into the world (with the help of men, of course). There are certain things that only women can understand through shared stories and life experiences – moon bleedings, bearing children, social and cultural successes and struggles.  The knights on quest are seeking this source of the Divine Feminine, lacking it in their own souls, longing to reach out to the Goddess but unable within the constraints of their religion and their faith.

The quest for the Grail is also an inner quest – it is not all about externally seeking something that is outside our selves. Often the Divine Feminine can be missing from a woman’s life as well.  For reasons too legion to go into here, seeking out a female goddess can be a deep and meaningful way to connect with our own self and, in doing so, other women, humanity and the world at large.

What the knights seems to miss, on the whole, is that the Grail is Woman.  Through honouring Woman as well as Man he can come to bridge the gap, come to know the divine.  It is right there in front of their eyes, but they choose not to see it.  For women, coming to understand our own selves is the forerunner to compassion and empathy not only for our sisters, but everything. In seeing and seeking the Grail within, we can heal our own wounds.  We must also ask ourselves the questions that Perceval did not.

By asking our selves (the separation of the words, instead of writing ourselves is intentional here) “What ails thee?” we take the time to look within, to perhaps explore shadow aspects of ourselves.  Within many Eastern traditions, it is through meditation that we understand our selves better, and also understand and redirect our reactions to the world – ie. instead of simply reacting to an event, we act with intention, with mindfulness and awareness. With the Grail question, we can ask this of our selves as well as others in pretty much any situation, therefore eliminating a reactionary response to a more intentional approach. In doing so, we may just find the healing for our selves and the world that is so needed.

The second Grail question, “Whom does the Grail serve?” invites us to question our intention.  Whether we are experiencing pleasant or unpleasant aspects in our lives, we can ask our selves “who does this serve?”, thereby eliminating that which is no longer necessary, and bringing joy, awe and wonder back into our lives.  With old habits and patterns of behaviour that we wish to be freed from, we can simply ask this question over and over again until we have the answer that is required for spiritual growth.  We can ask this question in every aspect of our lives, from our weekly shopping (in order to make better choices not only for ourselves, but the planet) to our everyday interactions with other people.  If we are making a positive change instead of falling into negative, but comfortable patterns then we are on the road to spiritual progress. Reminding our selves of the Grail questions has been integral to my learning these past few months, becoming a mantra for everyday life.

In a patriarchal culture and society, the loss of the feminine can be devastating, as it was to the knights of the Round Table.  In our quest for wholeness, we can either run around in circles, questing after the Grail through established means, or we can simply look within to gain a better perspective on compassion and the divine, whether it be male or female, or even genderless.  It is the deep exploration within that allows us to bring that knowledge out into the world – we cannot simply spend our lives gazing at our own navels – we must bring the Grail out for the benefit of others. We must offer the gifts of compassion and self-awareness. In this, the Grail Mysteries are best served.