Recently at a Steampunk event, a very fine chap (Paul Adams) spoke about how just because something isn’t ‘his’ steampunk, doesn’t make it invalid. Like Druidry, steampunk has breadth and depth, and every so often someone tries to explain why some other set of people are doing it all wrong. This is a subject I’ve poked before, but new things have occurred to me.
When it comes to communities and interests, we should all have the right to choose how we identify and what we do. In any given community, there’s likely to be a critical mass forming a centre somewhere, and also people pushing the edges. To me, this seems intrinsic to a lively community. Enough definition, and enough challenge makes for something alive, able to change and not too controlling. The more people push at the edges, the more the people in the middle may feel they need to say ‘our bit is the true bit’ and reduce the size of the project to make it more ‘real’. They will vocalise the fear of being too diluted, too vague. It doesn’t mean anything anymore, we must get back to the core principles.
This way can lie fundamentalism, with all its nasty habits. However, if the centre has limited power, or ideally no real power at all, it can only make noise. Having people passionate about the centre is a good thing. It creates stability and gives the people on the edges something to rebel against. Yes, sometimes people can get so far outside a thing that they become something else entirely. This is also fine, so long as they don’t have the power to make everyone else do it their way. This is how we get new things, evolution, adaptation and learning.
There should be a little bit of natural tension between people who are part of the centre and people who push edges. We shouldn’t be afraid of that tension – it’s what’s holding the overall shape of the thing.
And let’s face it, if these processes of holding and testing had not already been part of Druidry, we’d still be wearing fake beards and white robes. We’d be a small, probably cultish thing centred around a few big names. Without our long, healthy history of people saying ‘sod that’ and going off to try their own thing, we could be a narrow and maladaptive little thing able to do only what its first few founders in the modern era were ok with.
If, ultimately, so many people moved to the edges that the centre collapsed, this would also be fine. It would happen if the centre no longer related to lived experience and social change. I’m passionate about Druidry, but if so many people ran off in different directions as to make it unviable as a community, I’d be fine with that. I would still do whatever it made sense to me to do, on my own terms. We don’t actually need the validation of other people doing it our way.
However great we think our practices are, they are never great enough to make people hang onto them when they want to be doing something else. I hold that this is true of all religions, all communities, all traditions and all cultures. If you aren’t driven by love of them, and working with other people of the same persuasion, what you’ve got is already dead.