Tag Archives: interfaith

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Down the Forest Path

TDN to join Inter Faith Network

On the 29th of September 2014, at the Annual General Meeting of The Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (IFN UK), The Druid Network (TDN) was admitted to Membership.

IFN works to promote understanding, cooperation and good relations between organisations and persons of different faiths in the UK.

In April 2012, IFN refused the first application for membership of The Druid Network due to its current membership policy restricting membership to the ‘big’ nine faiths.  This refusal resulted in TDN becoming involved in dialogue with IFN, with a view to reviewing their membership policy to become both more inclusive and to remove any suggestion of discrimination against minority faiths.  Other interested parties also took up this challenge and this led to a meeting, hosted in the House of Lords, discussing religious freedom within the UK. This meeting was held in November 2012 and representatives of some twenty…

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Interfaith Druid

I spent the weekend at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust in Slimbridge, selling art and books as part of their Christmas market. For those of you who are either further away or not devoted bird watchers, this is a big nature centre, lots of water birds, and a big foyer suitable for doing events in. I had Druid books on the table, unshockingly, and I did sell some.

I also had several conversations with random people who saw ‘Druid’ on the book covers and wanted to talk about what they’d seen in the news, something about interfaith and charity… half remembered stories that made them uneasy. I ended up filling in gaps as best I could. I only have a partial grasp on what’s going on, but, The Druid Network – a registered English charity, applied for a place on the Interfaith Network (I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s called.) This is a big, publically funded interfaith group. The Druid Network were turned down, ostensibly on the grounds that it would cause disruption, despite no evidence of any Druid ever having disrupted any of the smaller interfaith groups where Druids attend.

It looks a lot like prejudice. Worse yet, it is prejudice in an organisation that gets its money from the state, and has therefore some sort of mandate. If you want to be a bigot in your own private playground, I for one don’t have the energy to bug you about it. I’ll go someplace else. But, if you are a big, official outfit and there is no ‘somewhere else’ that makes a viable alternative, I am not a happy bunny.

I like interfaith work. I’ve had a little bit of formal exposure. I like the kind of random informal stuff I end up doing at events. I also like the Druid Network (I’m a member but in no way qualified to speak on behalf of said outfit). I do not like what’s happened here. The whole point of interfaith is inclusion. I’ve heard plenty of protest against the idea of ‘fringe nutters’ getting a toe in the door anywhere. Usually from people who assume ‘fringe nutters’ are all the people they haven’t heard of, and the odds are good they’ll include folk like the Bahia and Jains in there. As well as us, of course. Tabloid thinking, we all know how it goes. ‘I haven’t heard of it and therefore it’s a worthless pile of rubbish’ is not the mindset that makes interfaith work. ‘I don’t like it so I don’t want to have to deal with it’ is another attitude you cannot take into interfaith work. It all starts to sound a bit like ‘don’t take my toys away!’

Some of the bigger UK faith groups have not been getting good press lately, for other acts of exclusion (Church of England saying no to women Bishops). Politically this sort of behaviour just isn’t clever, and it doesn’t help anyone. We need to be able to talk to each other. We need to foster open communication to reduce fear and prejudice. We need to accept at the table anyone who feels moved to be there, no matter how fringe, or weird or ‘not us’ we think they are. Exclusion is a good way of breeding resentment and entrenching bloody stupid ideas on both sides. We need something a lot better than this. I wait with interest to see what we actually get.

How useful is paganism?

Paganism is a blanket term covering a broad array of beliefs, from ancient practices down to modern traditions. It comes to us from a Roman word for the rural, unsophisticated folk who still worshipped nature, rather than the Emperors. Paganism therefore covers, sometimes, witchcraft, druidry, heathenry, shamanism, Hellenic groups, Romano religio, and a great many others. However, not all folk in any of these traditions see themselves as pagan nature worshippers. Some Druids are Christian, many magical practitioners are not ‘religious’ in the same way. There are also folk who have no specific tradition within paganism and for whom ‘pagan’ is a useful term of self identification, and there are folk who do not want to be labelled.

When it comes to talking to the rest of the world, to government and official bodies, to interfaith gatherings and the media, ‘pagan’ has been a useful term. You might be the only priestess of Vesta for miles. You might be the only Alexandrian witch in the village, the only Kemeticist in the state, but the odds are good you aren’t the only pagan. As a lone practitioner, officialdom will see no reason to bother with you, but will blithely give you a hard time. As one of a body of voters, consumers, readers… you may have a voice. The trouble is in practice we don’t do a great job of speaking for each other. Even in groups where people make a point of trying to learn about other paths for the express purpose of good representation in the wider world, it’s very hard to represent something you don’t personally believe in.

Paganism as a term can give us a sense of togetherness. Many moots are ‘pagan’ as opposed to path specific. I’ve been to a fair few over the years, and met many interesting people, but I’ve never found the term ‘pagan’ bound me very closely to any other pagan. Compared to the sense of connection and belonging I usually feel with other druids, it’s not in the running. But there was a time when I didn’t have a designated path and ‘pagan’ was the only word I could use to describe myself. Had it not been for those broader, more generic pagan groups and gatherings, I would not have met the people who helped me go on to self identify as a druid.

On getting more involved with the life of a tradition, it can be tempting to move away from the ‘general eclectic’ spaces. The New Age fringe, the dabblers, the wannabies, all seem at odds with the good thing now discovered. Except that we too were dabblers and wannabies not so very long ago. I think it’s vitally important to hold the doors open, and have places where people who want to learn and explore, can do so in a supportive environment. Not everyone knows automatically where they fit, and not everyone finds a tradition they readily belong to. This is how new traditions and groups come into being, and is a necessary part of the process.

While it is possible to learn alone, from books, the internet, experimentation, trees and a whole host of other sources, it can be lonely. It can feel a bit mad at times. It can get a bit mad. People are meant to be social creatures, and that’s a part of our spiritual lives too. So while I have doubts at how useful ‘pagan’ is as a word for describing us in our many paths, I’m convinced it has a function as a doorway. It’s an easy thing to find and a place to jump off from. But sometimes it makes for peculiar bedfellows, and throws people together who have very little in common with each other. Being all lumped together like one homogenous gloop probably isn’t in our interests much of the time, but it does have its uses.