Tag Archives: facilitating

The winging of workshops

While I did sit down and write a proper talk for TDN back last November, generally my preference is to wing things. Rituals, novels, talks… there’s something about going into it less than perfectly prepared and being open to what happens in the moment. Having a script is like having a safety net, or a comfort blanket, and I have no problem with other people choosing that. However, what you don’t get to do is respond to the mood on the day, reliably. Having less prepared can mean having a lot more freedom to follow the awen.

It probably isn’t entirely reassuring to get the sense that booking me means I float in with no plan. So, I should probably mention that isn’t it either. I tend to know where I’m going to start. For a book, that means the set up at the start is clear in my head – I know who the main characters are, their backgrounds and motivations, and I know how the setting works. In a workshop I’ll have figured out some core activities and the gist of an open speel, and perhaps three or four threads of ideas that I might go with depending on how things work out. I don’t always end up doing any of them. It can be quite exciting to find that ideas generated within a workshop develop a life of their own. At this point my role is less that of leading, more of some kind of herding/midwifery combo that enables people to do things.
For preference, facilitating people in doing stuff is what calls to me most.

I like workshops more than straight talks, from a delivery perspective, because of the interactive nature of the beast. Standing at the front dishing out words can be an odd business, during which it is alarmingly hard to tell whether people are politely sitting it out and desperate for it to be over, or actually a bit interested. With a workshop, it’s easier to get a sense of when, or if, people are engaging, and that is a great comfort improver for me.

There’s also the whole authority thing of standing up front and lecturing. It can be the case that, due to research, experiment or hard thinking, I know more about a given subject than my audience but often that’s not the case. Druids, and for that matter Pagans, tend to read widely, live creatively and grow ideas. I’ve yet to be in a space where people didn’t have fascinating insights and alternative takes to offer on whatever I’ve come up with. It’s something I love about blogging, too. I float out a handful of thoughts, and then all manner of things come back in the form of comments. I like the fluid shifting between being the teacher and being the student. I like not holding authority.

If I don’t plan too heavily, then each time I take a workshop out, or a subject to talk about, it comes out slightly different. That’s a real joy as well. It reduces the risk of me getting bored, and it means that if you turn up to something I’m doing, you can be reasonably confident that you won’t have heard it before. There’s also an evolution element, as feedback and suggestions sneak into the mix. At Druid camp, Nick pointed out that we have a wealth of traditional music and we don’t base our chants on it. So I’m figuring out how to get more folk into the chanting, and that will be fun, and connects my Druidry more to the folk heritage I hold dear.

If you’re coming to the talk in Scarborough on Friday, expect to join in. I am planning on taking this one other places, too, just figuring out likely venues. Rest assured that I do have a plan, kind of, but if you come along with some wild ideas that could totally de-rail the whole thing, that’s fine. De-railing is a whole new adventure.

Of service and community

Nothing brings a person’s true nature to the fore like hard times and conflict. In difficulty, we see who is motivated by integrity and who puts ego first. We see who the peacemakers are, who the honourable warriors are, and who is all piss and wind. We see the control freaks, the fearful, the vindictive and the bloody stupid. All that is best, and worst in people tends to show up in the hard times.

Communities are difficult things. When two or more druids are gathered together, there will be disagreements. There will be personality clashes. There will be visions of how the world works that cannot ever be reconciled. This does not mean we can only hope to be groves of one, it means we need to work, and we need to have good and honourable intentions. This comes back to what I was saying recently about facilitating, rather than leading. A facilitator is not running something to massage their ego. A facilitator does what needs doing. A leader, on the other hand, will blithely do things that are not in the interests of their community, for the sake of themselves.

Bards of the Lost Forest had a core of three whose world views were not compatible. We made a strength of it, because it meant that there could be no core dogma, nothing others had to fall into line with. We accepted the different perspectives, and all was well. This was easy because we were collectively there to run an event, not to be important.

I’ve had a lot of experience of organising things over the last decade, and spent a fair amount of time in the company of other people who organise things. If you want it to go well, you have to be doing it for the love of the thing, and not for the desire to look good or be important.

It is difficult when the druid community has an occasion for collective shame. The last thing I want to do is stand up in public and draw attention to these moments. But at the same time, we should cast our eyes in the direction of the Catholic Church and child abuse, to remind ourselves what happens when we pretend not to see. To the best of my knowledge, we aren’t on that scale, and I pray we never will be. But in the meantime, we should not accept any kind of leadership that exists to serve the ego of the individual and not the good of the community.

I’ve been in conflict situations before now. I’ve had to consider what I needed, and balance that against what was going on in a wider context. I had a thorough stabbing in the back from people in my folk club, many years ago. I know what it’s like to be put in an unworkable position. While I did what I had to do to make things viable for me, I also kept my folk club going. I did not let my community down, but I did have some people leave it – their choice, not mine. Often, there are no perfect solutions to these things, but a bit of thought and care for the consequences and some attention to timing and detail goes a long way. I’ve found myself in conflict situations on the druid side too, times when public venting of anger and resentment might have made me feel a lot better, but could have caused untold harm to others. I’m proud to say that I didn’t do what I might have done.

People can, and will vote with their feet when they find themselves encountering ego and bullshit. To those of you who undertake to run things I would say, you are there to serve. If you aren’t there to serve, do not expect support.

To those many of you, facilitators and participants, who are doing what honour demands – in whatever form that takes – who are acting out of care and integrity, I salute you. Hang on in there. You represent the very best of what druidry is, and there are a lot of you.  More than enough to carry the day, to find the good, to make something worth having.


I’m not commenting specifically on Druid Camp, of course, having no direct involvement. I wish peace and the best of luck to those people trying to make a go of it, and have every sympathy for those who have felt obliged to step back.

Facilitating, not leading

Leadership implies authority. Yesterday in the post Being a Druid Leader  I talked about some of the things that trouble me about leadership as a concept. Today I’m going to poke around the idea of facilitation and how that differs from leadership. The most critical difference is that a facilitator does not have to put themselves in a position of authority. This can be applied to the running of just about anything, and also to teaching.

Leadership tends towards dogma. Leaders tend towards visions, and ways of doing things. Now, we all need ways of doing things and we all need inspiration to guide us along our path, but does this mean we need precise guidance from a leader? When you are first learning a path, be it druidry, or politics or an academic subject, what you don’t know is overwhelming. Having someone to help you get to any kind of path through the confusion of trees, is often a great relief. But the more we learn, the more likely we are to have our own ideas. There will be things we want to try as unique visions come to each of us. Some visions are small and personal, some epic and revolutionary, but all are important.

People who set themselves up to lead, to bring their vision into the world, to teach their particular path and so forth, run the risk of trying to turn students and followers into them. I’ve been there, I have experimented with the t-shirt both as a student and as a teacher. If you are inspired by your own ideas, it can be tempting to want to push others into taking them up. And surely, that is the very nature of religious tradition? Except that Druidry usually prides itself on being non-dogmatic, and teaching your vision can be a quick route into dogma.

Someone who facilitates does not instruct. They may offer ideas, suggestions, and whatnot, but will spend as much time listening to how others want to do things, as they do laying out their own plans. A facilitator creates a safe space, a framework, in which others can explore. Now, obviously the shape of the framework will inform the options of other participants, but if you get it right, they aren’t constricted, just held and reassured.

Here’s a simple example. Running a guided meditation, you can say “You come into a beautiful clearing, sun is streaming through the trees and you feel happy and blessed.” Or you can say “You come into a beautiful clearing, sun is streaming through the trees, it’s a quiet and safe place. Take some time to be in it and see how it makes you feel.” The first approach forces the emotions of the participants, the second does not. In the second, a person needing to deal with grief would be able to sit down in that envisioned glade and weep the tears they could not shed in public, for example.

Facilitating is less work than leading. It does not disempower the people who come to you. It requires everyone to be to a decent degree, responsible for themselves. It doesn’t tie you into ways of working that are quite so likely to sap energy. It also means that you do not take control of where your people go, what they learn, how they practice. You do not get to own what they become.

I learned a lot about facilitating in my time at The Druid Network – an organisation that embodies this ethos of making spaces but not leading. I’ve seen it at work at OBOD – yes, the shape of the written course means you’ve got a path to follow, but good tutors (I had several) will support you in finding your own detours and building your own ways of working. It’s easier to share the work of facilitating – a group of people can collectively facilitate a ritual, but only one or two can lead. There’s more meritocracy this way, more distribution, more, when it comes down to it…. Druidry.