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 Experiment

So, unbeknownst to anyone, even my husband, I’ve been conducting a little experiment on myself.  For the last three months, I have avoided all media that might make me think pessimistically about my body image. It’s been quite a revelatory experience.

This experiment was to see just how much the media played a role in my own self-image. I really didn’t think it did, thinking that I was fairly self-aware and also conscious of marketing and advertising schemes, campaigns, gimmicks, etc. What I found out was that no one is immune.  Least of all myself.

I don’t buy fashion magazines, but I did buy Shape, a women’s fitness magazine for a while, and stopped for this experiment.  At offices I avoided flipping through any magazines in order to maintain the integrity of the experiment.  I have not watched television adverts – I’ve been sticking to BBC mostly, and all my television is recorded anyway, for the two or three programs that we do watch, so any adverts can be fast-forwarded.  I don’t watch television shows that have actors “made up”. It’s a good thing I don’t watch much television anyway – my shows have pretty much been Escape to the Country and The Hairy Bikers cooking shows.  I haven’t gone to the movies, and have avoided adverts there as well. I haven’t been in big cities with billboards. I avoid looking at the right hand side of social media sites. I know there are probably hundreds of other ways that advertising may have snuck in, but I think I’ve been pretty vigilant.

I’ve never really had a poor self-image, especially when it came to my own body, but I’m not as confident as I was when I was younger.  With the years a couple of pounds have come on, a few wrinkles have appeared.  It’s inevitable.  But what made me lose that confidence?  People still tell me I’m attractive – but I didn’t believe them. I thought a) they were just being nice, or b) they just wanted to get in my pants, nevermind the mind/soul that came with it, or c) they were my husband, who would tell me that I’m beautiful if I was dragged through a hedge backwards wearing a potato sack and not having washed for weeks on end.

Well, dear readers, this has all changed.

I don’t know if it is because I know that I haven’t been exposed to the media, or whether it is a direct result of not being exposed, but at any rate I feel more beautiful and confident in my appearance than I have for many, many years.  I noticed a month ago that I was starting to dress differently – wearing things that reflected my own inner self (whatever the heck that is, if there is even an inner self).  Take today, for instance.  I work in an office environment a couple days a week for a music company, and so “office attire” is never all that strict.  Today, I am wearing ¾ length purple Aladdin trousers, knee length boots, and a crochet top, with leaf earrings and necklace in honour of autumn.  I’m wearing jewellery again, I am accessorising, I am thinking about what expresses my mood as a whole, which is something that I haven’t done for years.  You would have thought that being exposed to magazines would make you want to accessorise more, but no.  I was stuck in a rut.  The way I am presenting myself lately is different.  I feel prettier, therefore I am dressing prettier. Or at least in a way that I think is pretty!

When people pay me a compliment, I thank them, sincerely, instead of thanking them and not believing it.  When my husband tells me I’m sexy, I know it. When people tell me they love my clothes, I know they do, and I tell them which charity shops or fair trade places they came from.  I’m walking a little taller. I’m wearing my hair differently, trying out new things.  It’s been quite an eye opener.  I even got a compliment on my purple Aladdin pants.

So, why has this all happened?  I think it must have to do with people not telling me how I should look, dress or feel about myself.  As a teenager I didn’t have the financial means to buy the magazines, so I didn’t care and dressed how I wanted to dress.  I turned down a modelling agency who, at the time, wanted me to sign on with them if I lost weight (I was just over 5ft 8, and weighed 120 lbs).  I didn’t watch much television, preferring to hang out and talk with friends, or hike in the words.  I stuck up two fingers to anyone who tried to tell me what to wear, what to think about myself and revelled in exploring these things for myself. I’ve come full circle.

A friend of mine has a great story about one of the most beautiful people I know, on what she was wearing when they first met.  She says that E was wearing a tutu on a night out – no reason, she just wanted to wear a tutu. Not for a hen night, not for any other reason than wanting to wear a tutu.  Like young children in supermarkets, wearing fairy wings or Spiderman outfits, she was going to wear what she wanted to wear.  Her free spirit is infectious, and inspiring, and she is a joy to be around. She is completely guileless, unashamed and free.

More and more I am feeling that way too.  I would encourage you all to take up the challenge.  Avoid all media adverts, particularly those that have anything to do with how you look.  Take a long look at yourself, and at how you express yourself physically.  Go through your wardrobe – does your clothing reflect your joy in the world, your true self?  If you want to wear a tutu, what is stopping you? You might be amazed at how insidious the beauty and fashion industry is.

Set your self free.  I’m not waiting until I am old to wear purple.

Warning

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens

And learn to spit.

 

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

 

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”

~ Jenny Joseph ~

Face the Abyss…

As per my latest blog post, I’ve been inspired to go media free one day a week, when I am home and have access to the internet, television and radio – it’s easy to go media free when on holiday, for instance, but not when we’re home alone, and have to be alone with ourselves. No phone calls, no internet, no television, no radio. One day a week, to get back in touch with myself. To remember a time before all this media and social media became so important. A time to remember what really matters.  A time to read, to meditate, to go for walks, to sing, to dance, to play an instrument, to create.

Look into the abyss, and the abyss looks back at you…