Tag Archives: leadership

Glitterati Pagan

It’s a term I ran into recently. ‘Glitterati Pagan’ – a term of resentment, devaluing and dismissal. – I’m not sure if it was being applied to me – laughable to imagine that anyone who has met me could consider my shabby, unshiny self to be some kind of glittering creature of the limelight… but then I struggle to think of any Pagans I know who could be called Glitterati. I also remember there were (and possibly still are) folks who though those volunteers in charge of the Pagan Federation were on a salary. So, you never know.

There are a fair few professional and semi professional Pagans out there – authors, teachers, healers, organisers, public speakers, celebrants, craft people. Anyone this involved does things that take time and skill and, in other contexts, you’d probably have to pay for. Everyone has to eat. Most Pagan things happen because volunteers put in their time and energy, but if that becomes a full time commitment, it becomes necessary to consider the balance. Either people do less for the community, or they ask for something back. Either choice should be acceptable.

As a case in point… Most Pagan events cannot afford to pay their speakers enough to cover transport and accommodation. Someone might be able to put you up and feed you, which is a great help. If you travel and pay for accommodation, and your costs aren’t covered, you rely on selling books to pick up the slack, perhaps. Authors get books at 50% of cover cost, usually. So on a £10 book, an author can make £5. If I’m on the train and far enough from home that I have to stay over, that’s going to cost me £100, easily. I need to sell 20 books (heavy to carry by myself). All I’ve done is break even. My time, effort going into research, developing a talk, delivering it and what I did to write the book  – the odds are the Pagan in front of you makes little or no money for doing that. They could well be doing it at a loss and subsidising that loss through other paying work. Most professional Pagans do other things as well to pay the bills.

I know a lot of people who run things and have met many more. Moots, groves, covens, conferences, organisations, camps magazines… And they are tremendously hard working people. Even when they do get paid, it’s very little in consideration of the time and energy they put in. We don’t tend to pay a living wage to people doing the work in Paganism. Most will not pick up the minimum wage, but we ask them to be dedicated, capable, educated and inspired.

Every now and then someone gets all ‘great-I-am’ and ponces round (usually online) being self important. These are not the people (usually) who do the work. At any given event, at the back of any given organisation, the people who do the work are too busy running round doing the work to have much time for posturing and attention seeking. The hours and hours that go into crafting, writing, creating ceremony, have much the same effect. I don’t see much glamorous posturing at all. Perhaps I hang out with the wrong people.

But I also don’t know what I look like from the outside. I don’t know what anyone else sees when they look at the Pagan Federation, the Druid Network, the camp organisers, or anything else. I don’t always know what they assume, and what they imagine. I do know if they have ideas that are far removed from the truth, and filter what they see through those ideas, they won’t see what I see. They won’t see the stress and anxiety, the exhaustion, and all the other costs. But then, if you label the more visible Pagans as a bunch of attention seeking media whores, that changes your relationship to them. I’ll leave the implications dangling.


The war to end all wars

One hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany, in what was soon labelled as the war to end all wars. The scale of death so shocked people of the time that they all imagined no one would ever do anything like it again. We had established, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that war is a miserable and futile thing, with unspeakable costs, and that you can spend years killing people in their thousands and make no meaningful political changes.

If we had any sense as a species, that would have been it, and we’d never have had a war since. A hundred years on, and we’re still in the habit of killing each other in horrible ways that ultimately change very little outside of the personal tragedies. Why? Because there is always someone who thinks violence will get them what they want. Fear of the aggressor means that nations who would like to view themselves as non-aggressive have to keep weapons and armies to protect themselves, right through to protecting themselves with pre-emptive strikes. There are people in the weapons trade who make a fortune out of war, and if you’re a politician with an eye to history book posterity, war remains tempting. This is in turn because we so often write our histories as the history of warfare and commanders.

If words like ‘glorious’ and ‘heroic’ are associated with killing people, the whole thing is a lot more attractive. A glance at the WW1 poets will show you a bunch of young men who had been told how noble and good it was to lay down your life for your country, not how awful it was watching a friend slowly choke to death on gas. What would our attitude to war be like if we taught more social history? What if we taught the history of science more, or the history of democracy? There are some very interesting and informative histories out there and if you study history until the age of 14, you’ll barely know they exist. You will know a fair bit about the two world wars. You’ll probably know Norman conquest and Saxon raiders, a few kings and queens, a few other big, important fights. If you’re American, you’d expect to know all about the war of independence and the civil war. Our histories are so often the histories of violence, as though only this past exists and is available to talk about.

It would be lovely if all the people in power figured out how to never start another war. I won’t hold my breath. We’d have to give up on greed, on bids to control resources, religious hatred, cultural imperialism, and fear of each other. We’re a long ways from doing those things. Many of us live in societies that make token gestures at being democratic. In theory, the will of the people means something. The culture a leader thinks they come from certainly has an influence. Financial pressure talks.

We are not going to get world peace by waiting around for the power hungry, greed driven idiots who grab power to play nicely. It’s going to have to come from a grass roots, from a culture that does not love and romanticise violence through its films, does not hero-worship killers and tell proud stories of the slaughter in its history. A culture that sees violence as failure will be a lot less inclined to get into wars. A culture that does not see leadership potential in swaggering bully boys who want to play at soldiers (either gender, with all due reference to Margaret Thatcher). Right wing politics is riddled with the language of macho violence even when it’s not planning to kill anyone directly. It’s all wars on things, fights, tough choices, it’s the language of conquest and victory. What we need is culture of co-operation that has good relationships with other cultures rather than living in fear of them.

We’re a very long way from there, one hundred years after the war to end all wars didn’t. That doesn’t make it impossible, or any less worth trying for. Until we change the culture of leadership, it isn’t going to come from those who lead.


Leading communities

When a person gets into a position of leadership in a community, they don’t just make calls about what happens; they define a culture. Mostly, Pagans come to leadership by accidental means. Very few people consciously seek it, and therefore I think it’s justified to say that no matter how firmly you believe that leadership issues are not your problem… they are. You could wake up tomorrow and find a moot has fallen on your head. They do that.

Many pagans do not like to think in terms of hierarchy and power because it smacks of all the things that you probably don’t want to do. We don’t want dogma, or to be controlled, we don’t want to be told how to feel or what to think. This means that effects created by subtle, and accidental means get under the radar, we don’t spot them and they cause problems.

Let me give you some examples. If you run open rituals, and you always wait around for the latecomers, because you’re a lovely, inclusive sort of person, you can in fact make a massive problem. You are rewarding the late people and punishing the punctual ones. You are reinforcing the idea that it’s fine to be late. I’ve seen this lead to serious levels of unhappiness and disharmony. You get a culture of lateness, or a culture of resentment, or a lot of people stop showing up.

If you let whingers and complainers dominate discussions at the expense of people who are doing the work, you get problems. Of course you do this because you think everyone deserves a fair hearing and you take complaints seriously, but if you get someone for whom whinging is a hobby, you destroy the morale of volunteers and the whole thing falls apart.

You might want everything to be done only by consensus. That’s a classic of the well-meaning, inclusive pagan mind-set and all too often, it results in nothing happening at all.

Small things you do as a leader can shape how the community around you behaves. What you do defines what is normal and acceptable. That includes what you do when you’re tired, sore, pissed off and hungry. It is a lot to have to think about and a lot to carry, and one of the many reasons why people who do put themselves forward often choose to step back again after a while. It is bloody hard work to do it well. It is also well worth trying to be alert to all of this.

However, there’s scope for all manner of things here. If we engage with our wider community at all, we are all in a position to either support, or not co-operate with accidental culture failures of this shape. If we get a dysfunctional leader and we cooperate with the culture they make, we are contributing to that culture. It is all too easy to do, and I say that knowing perfectly well that I’ve done it.

The only answer I can see is to make sure, in everything you do, that you uphold your values, walk your talk, and hold firm against any culture that tries to encourage you to do otherwise. It isn’t always easy, but if we all do it, it will probably become more so. Never give a leader guru status, never give your power away to a teacher, or a public figure. Own what you do. It is when we mistakenly imagine that someone else is a ‘better’ pagan than we are, that we get into these things. Only you can walk your path. Only I can walk mine.


Pagan Elders

Paganism itself is old enough to have elders who have been doing their thing for decades, and ancestors of tradition who have passed beyond this life. Elders are a vital part of any community, providing much of the stability and continuity.
Keepers of knowledge, aware of how the wheel was reinvented last time, able to guide, and to inspire, elders serve many roles. Technically this doesn’t have to be an age-based job. In practice, the elder in any community is the person with most experience. Still, it’s nice when that person has some age and experience to bring to bear, but we make do with what we get.

Positions that suggest kudos, power or influence are always attractive to people who want to be important. In all communities, not just Paganism, you get the issue of people who crave attention and authority, but don’t have much to offer in return for that. It’s just an occupational hazard of being human, I think. Often we try to step up to roles because here is a gap to fill, woefully under-qualified for what we feel called upon to do. I’ve been there, and I have every sympathy for anyone who tries to shoulder a job they are not ready for. There’s a lot of difference between trying to do what needs to be done, and wanting a title.

The most important thing, for me, when I consider the elders I particularly look up to, is that they walk their talk. What they do when they aren’t up on the podium or writing a book, is consistent with what they preach. I think it’s the easiest way to spot who is for real, and who just wants your money. The elders who inspire me, walk their talk, live their work, embody their values and make a lot of sense. They too are capable of error and shortcoming, because they are people, but being wise elders they also know how to handle that kind of thing with grace and good sense. I’m very much of the opinion that you really get the measure of a person when you see what they do after they’ve botched something. That’s a true test of character.

I don’t have to agree with everything a person says in order to respect and admire them. I do not have to want to be exactly like them. What I need to see is the integrity in them. Obviously there are matters of personal taste around how I respond to their precise vision, but that’s a somewhat separate issue. I do care greatly about inspiration, and I will follow that, but I won’t follow it for long if a person has no substance, sincerity or integrity with which to back up their fine ideas. I simply don’t trust that which is not tested by being lived.

There are two people in particular I’ve had in mind as I’ve written this, whose years of experience, knowledge, work and personal integrity combine with powerful visions and insights to create something truly remarkable: Ronald Hutton, and Philip Carr Gomm. I have colossal respect for these two gentlemen, and in terms of Druid inspiration, these are the two I most look to. There are others whose work I admire, but where I’ve had less opportunity to explore that relationship between work and character as much. I have deep respect for the work of Graeme Talboys, and Glennie Kindred. There are many other Druids whose work I like and admire, and who seem to me to be embodying their ideas in compelling ways, but, a lot of these dear folk are under fifty, and therefore seem far too young to be considered in these terms just yet.


Pagan Titles

As regular readers will know, I’m not that keen on authority or power structures. Titles that are all about seeming important make me edgy. However, not all titles are simply self-given manifestations of self-importance. They also function, at least in theory, as meaningful labels that allow people to better understand what we do. “Celebrant” announces a willingness to take bookings for rites of passage. If you’re calling yourself a wise elder, you’d better have a grey hair or two to back that up with, and so forth.

A label can be a statement of intent. There’s a fab blog post on this very subject here – http://www.roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-name.html

Quite often what happens though is not that we wake up one morning and glue a shiny title to ourselves, but that it comes in from outside. You get labelled as a teacher the moment someone asks that you teach them and you don’t run away. You become a ritual leader the first time you step into a circle to run it, and a grove mother, or father, at the point of there being a grove. Sometimes that’s chosen, sometimes it happens.

There’s an interesting thing about naming. On the landscape history side, the names given by outsiders are considered more useful than those given by locals, in the past. If you live round here (wherever here is) there’s The pub, The church, The fields. If you live somewhere else, and look at it from the outside, there’s that really good pub, the particularly badly built church, the very muddy field. Old names, given by outsiders, often say more about a place than what the inhabitants called it. Let’s not ask what happened to Chipping Sodbury. (Although Chipping means market and bury implies Saxon fortification, so I’ve just foiled my own gag. Never mind, we move on…)

The names people give us may be better indicators of us, than the titles we would choose for ourselves. I find it hugely reassuring that other people are willing to call me ‘Druid’ and ‘author’. Mind you, I’ve also recently been called a filthy urchin, which is not wholly lacking in appropriateness. The titles we give people can be reflections of respect, or derision. One only has to look at politics to see the difference between the titles they give themselves, and the titles others bestow upon them. Can I mention swivel eyed loons now?


Considering Power

Often, what having power means, is being able to do to other people things they are not able to do to you. If that isn’t actual violence, it will still be something that creates and environment for violence. Pagan communities abound with opportunities to get power over other people. The teacher-pupil dynamic can readily confer the wrong kind of power, as can being a ‘leader’ of events and activities. It all too readily it becomes a justification for making people do things your way. Once you start down that route, inflicting your will upon others, it’s a slippery slope. We stop listening to what other people say they want and need. Most dangerously, we decide we know better than them, and thus we get to the mindset that can announce it may be hurting you, but it’ll be for your own good in the long run. It may feel like rape, but that’s because you’re not able to properly express your sexual needs. Trust me, you don’t know how to manage that money, and you don’t know what you should be eating… scary stuff.

We can enter this kind of power dynamic in family life – the parent/child relationship is laden with opportunities to turn responsibility into despotism. When someone has far less power and knowledge than you, it is painfully easy to manipulate them, to ignore their feelings and preferences and force them to exist in-line with your designs. The damage this does is colossal. Again, while it may not manifest as physical violence, it is a violence against the spirit.
What happens to us when we adopt this approach? It isn’t good for the perpetrator either. This kind of power-over serves to entrench fear. After all, you want that power for protective reasons. You want to prevent them doing something to you (quite probably that which you are doing to them). You fear everyone is as unreasonable as you are and that only by having power over them can you stay safe. Do unto others or they will do unto you. Holding this kind of power means never giving yourself chance to find out that it might be different. Not everyone wants to control and manipulate. Letting other people hold different opinions is not going to take you to the hell you secretly fear. Let’s pause to consider gay marriage issues in light of this one. What are the bigots so afraid of?

When we force our will upon others, we don’t make things better for ourselves. We reduce our options, cut ourselves off from alternative perspectives that could have been really helpful. We also make it impossible to have real relationships, because nothing meaningful or truly loving can flourish in that kind of power-based scenario. To seek power over other people is to lose, and to keep losing, in more ways than you are likely to be able to see. It’s when we live and work co-operatively and with mutual respect that the good stuff happens.

The other kind of power, the power to get things done, is a whole other bag of squirrels. If you seek power in order to enable not just yourself, but others, you won’t get into this power trap. If you want power to fix something, to heal, to improve and you’re doing that co-operatively, then power is a good and useful thing. It’s when power becomes an end in its own right that the problems start. When holding power is more important than doing the right things. When appearing to be right becomes more important than actually being right.

Seeking power is a dangerous business. Power is seductive. If you care about yourself, it’s worth approaching any opportunities for power with a great deal of caution. I’ve also noticed that I haven’t met a single awful person who believed they were evil. Outside of fantasy fiction, no one believes they are evil and everyone will have a story about how what they do is perfectly reasonable. Even if they know the behaviour is wrong, they know that there is a special exemption clause that covers their unique situation. Most people who are very wrong, are entirely convinced they are right, and are unable to countenance different perspectives. This is probably the biggest trap of the lot.


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.


Being a Druid Leader

During my twenties I ran moots, rituals, workshops, meditation sessions and musical events. I also worked as a volunteer for the Pagan Federation and The Druid Network. (All under my previous name). I have dipped my toes in the murky waters of pagan leadership. Yesterday I saw a comment about how few pagans are willing to volunteer to make things happen, and I wanted to comment on the perfectly sane reasons why this is so.

Volunteering is unpaid. You put in hours of your time and a lot of energy just running something simple like a moot. Now, if you have a job, a family, a home, a life, you maybe don’t have lots of spare hours to give. And the people you give to won’t reliably treat you like a hero. Many will make demands, want your attention, expect you to do things their way. It’s always a lot of responsibility to shoulder.

Taking control can disempower others. The less leadership there is, the more scope for things happening organically. And if that means not happening, that may be a good and healthy thing. Letting people grow so that they can create their own magic has its virtues. Where I have run things, I’ve tried to do so with as a light a touch as possible – not least because it makes the workload bearable.

Up until recently, I did not have books to sell. Hold that thought. Most magazines on paganism will not pay you for articles because they can’t afford to. Most pagan organisations cannot pay you to work for them. Most events will not be able to pay you for talks or workshops, you might get some free table space. But, if you don’t have a stream of work you can sell, then ‘service’ as a pagan means just that. You give, and you give and you get paid for the odd handfasting. Running workshops you hope to cover the cost of the venue. Most of us are financially poorer for volunteering, but weren’t in it for the money anyway. No one should feel obliged to take that on. And for the people, like me, who are now doing it as part of the day job ‘service’ is not the word. This is the day job.

Some of us go full time as pagans, or as creatives. I’m the latter. I do a lot of Druid stuff, but my work life includes a lot of editing, and writing in fiction genres too. I am not a Druid as my full time job. But if I do an event, I can carry my books, my bloke’s art, and maybe I can earn enough to cover the train fair. This puts me in a different position to the true volunteers.

But for the first ten years or so of my public, pagan life, it was not my day job, it didn’t pay the bills. I can’t afford to be a Druid full time as it is, and I have to say, I don’t want that to be my job description, either. I like the rest of my life rather a lot.

There are a great many people out there who do step up and run things. I know scores of teachers, celebrants, moot leaders, ritual organisers. Motives vary. I would say with confidence that, whatever the justifications about service, there are 2 things that cause a person to seek leadership roles in the pagan community. For a small minority, it’s all about self importance and the certainty of being superior to everyone else. Generally, such folk are a pain to work with, dogmatic and demanding.  I do not think paganism benefits from such leadership. The other sort, are the folk who need to feel useful. We need the validation of a round of applause. We need to feel wanted and appreciated. We of the raging insecurities who step up to the front in the hopes that someone will love us for it. This is a bard issue too. The hunger for applause that gets many people onto the stage, is a hunger for approval, for a place in the world. It’s underpinned by anxiety, self doubt and a lot of pain.

Still crying out for leaders?

Some of my leadership roles, I actively sought (TDN) most fell on me (PF, moot, rituals, folk club) some I did in answer to requests (workshops, music, meditation). I found it hard to say no, because I was working from a place of tattered self esteem. Some of it did me more harm than good. It cost me high in terms of energy. I got some things back from it.

These days I’m trying to find a better balance, working out what I can sustainably give and what is too much. So, right now, I am one of the many pagan folk who isn’t willing to run anything, and I make no apology for that. I am at the stage of life where I need to just turn up sometimes with cakes, and that be as far as it goes. I shall be attending a few events this year, but organising nothing. This prospect makes me very happy. I get my applause fixes in more viable ways (hurrah for blogging).

It is as important in paganism as in politics to question to motives of those who want to lead. And to question our own motives if we have the sudden urge to be out in front, telling people what to do, making big statements about how modern paganism *really* is…

I don’t want to speak for anyone else. I don’t want to tell anyone else what to do. You lovely people persist in turning up and reading, and that’s very much like a gentle round of applause, enough of a fix to keep me going. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like facilitation more than authority, and that’s what will be guiding me as I amble onwards.


Your superior druid, shrink wrapped

Yesterday there were debates on facebook, a question that perhaps it was not wise to ask in a public place, and a backlash. The details don’t really matter for the purposes of this post. It got me thinking, however, about those oft-recurring issues around authority in druidry. Every time our community, or some bit of it hits a crisis, someone will comment that it would be nice if there was a proper governing body to sort it all out.

This can mean one of two things. Firstly it can mean wanting someone else to shoulder the responsibility and come up with a magic fix. That’s a very simple, human response to difficulty. Sometimes we all want to be children again and to find a parent who will make it all better for us. The more troubling motivation is based on the desire to control the beliefs and behaviour of others.

I’ll freely admit I had a moment yesterday of wanting to be the one who could lay down the law and tell everyone what they ought to think, and do, and believe. I get these bouts of hypothetical megalomania, and if facebook is indicative, so does everyone else. We all know we’ve got it all figured out, we have the right way, the perfect solution, if only everyone else would listen. Except they don’t, and most of the time we’re wrong, and the ’perfect’ solution would not work for everyone.
One of the dangers on any kind of spiritual path is that you start feeling important. You know more than those around you, and this makes you a better sort of person. Being better, wiser and whatnot, you are then, in your own eyes entitled to lead. It’s not a big leap from leading to dictating. I will also admit that when I first came to druidry, many years ago, that desire to be important, special, ahead of the pack, was part of what motivated me. I wanted to matter. Again, I suspect I was pretty normal in those feelings and aspirations. I sought responsibility because I wanted opportunities to shine and impress.

The idea of being, or becoming ‘better’ is inherent in a lot of spiritual traditions. The idea of the chosen few, the special ones, the ones god will save and give the cushy afterlife to. The whole point of some forms of spirituality seems to be betterness. In being better than we were, we are surely becoming better than some of those around us. We can look at their actions for evidence of our own superior wisdom. We have the moral high ground now. It’s not a long walk from there to words like ‘master race’. Spirituality that feeds arrogance and self importance, is not really that spiritual at all, when you stop to think about it.

So I get angry and self important, like everyone else. I am thankful today that I did not say anything yesterday that I have cause to regret. The more I think about it, now that the initial frustration has passed, the clearer I am that I don’t want the responsibility of telling other people how to live their lives. I have no desire to be the person who says who can, and cannot call themselves a druid, or what druidry means, or how to teach it. I’d quite like to be part of the process that is a living and evolving tradition, but nothing more than that.

Does that make me a better sort of person than I was when I came to druidry? Can I now hold this up as proof of my improved state? Ah ha! Betterness is not about getting out front with self important titles. Betterness is all false modesty and sitting back, not getting my hands dirty and being smug at a distance. There are other daft ideas to run around, other ways to feel bigger whilst doing nothing of any great significance. Other ways of deluding the self.

Who measures the betterness? Me? A deity who might or might not exist? The druid community or its leaders, should we appoint them? And what does that betterness achieve? What happens when we make qualitative judgements about the worth of one life compared to another?
If everything has spirit, how can one manifestation of that be better or worse than any other? How can any existence be more or less valuable than another?

And yet, weigh against that the notion of excellence in all things. It is impossible to seek excellence without having some awareness of how what you do compares with what everyone else is doing. We find our goals by looking at each other. We measure ourselves by contrast. So much depends on what we want that excellence for. Do we seek it for the good of our community and the enhancement of the world, or to raise ourselves up above everyone else? That, I think, is the critical difference.