I’ve recently read Kevan Manwaring’s excellent new book Turning the Wheel, (proper review coming to the druid network website soon). One of the (many) things it prompted me to do, was consider how druidry comes across to those outside the community.
Kevan comments on druid time (being 2 hours late and seeing no problem with this), drunkenness at druid rituals, and media whoring, adherence to scripts regardless of what reality is doing, and what really comes across as a lack of soul. I’d love to argue with him, but I know he’s right. Not all druidry is like this. I know plenty of individuals and groups whose work is underpinned by soul and integrity. But I’ve seen the other thing enough times. In fairness, it’s not exclusive to druids – other pagans can be just as pompous, camera craving and ridiculous. Other religions as well, for that matter.
Positions of leadership, or spots in front of cameras often attract people who desperately want to be important, but who do not necessarily have anything useful to say. Smudge enough incense over it, wave a big enough wand and someone else might mistake you for a wise elder. It is tragic, as are the people who can only find spirit in a bottle, and all the other many, heartbreaking variations on a theme of spirituality fail.
Part of the problem is that genuinely spiritual people (of any faith) tend to be inherently quieter. They don’t have much to prove or the same kind of hunger for attention. If a druid is dressed like a hiker, doesn’t hit a big site to celebrate, doesn’t send their photos to the press, or blog about it, no one will ever notice them. Most of the druids I know could be summed up very neatly by that description. They do beautiful things, privately, quietly, where the need takes them and the spirit moves them.
All of which combines to create an interesting mess of a situation. A quiet druid will avoid the cameras, not wanting to be mistaken for ‘the other sort’. Sane, well balanced druids will not take on vast numbers of students and bestow ever more enthusiastic titles upon them. We run the risk of getting into a situation where sharing becomes commensurate with being a liability, and that would not be progress.
Good teachers have been an absolute blessing in my life. There haven’t been many of them, and frequently I’ve had to trail round after them, trying to elicit insight without seeming too much like a stalker. Quiet folk who undertake to share, are the life’s breath of good druid communities.
The only way to tackle public perceptions of druidry is to get quieter, gentler folk to make themselves known to the wider world. It’s difficult if you don’t want to dress up in eye catching gear and dance around a well known public monument on a very obvious calendar date, but there have to be other ways. There’s some really good quiet druid sharing on facebook, and across the blogs. That gives me hope.
Next year, armed with recent publications some of us will, hopefully be trying to stick heads above parapets. Probably me included. There must be a line to walk, between wanting a personal, private kind of spirituality, and being able to talk about it productively in public. Ways of bringing druidry to a wider audience that are not about flashing your funny bits for the cameras. Ways of not becoming a bad joke.
As a community, we are not comfortable with judging each other. We don’t point fingers and loudly observe that someone else is behaving like an idiot. Part of that is a culture of tolerance and non-dogma, and mostly that has to be a good thing. But at the same time it can mean that the guy with the silliest costume and the loudest voice will be the one people remember, and that’s not entirely fair on the rest. I would passionately defend any person, druid or otherwise, in their right to dress up and mess about in the manner of their choosing. An it harm none, etc. But at the same time, I don’t think that gives anyone else the right to speak for me, and effectively, they do.
Kevan Manwaring is an author who is likely to be predisposed in a friendly way where druids are concerned. We buy his books, after all. If someone only just outside the circle, and pagan friendly, can see our community is such an embarrassing shambles, what on earth are we doing? For me, it was a serious wake up call. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with it, much less how, but I can’t ignore it.