Tag Archives: pagan groups

Druid authority and ownership

On facebook a couple of days back, a chap remarked that a group we were in was not moderated and it was down to individuals using it. This made me realise that some awareness raising might be in order. Pretty much every space you encounter as a Pagan or Druid, online and in the real world, is owned by someone. Often there are layers of ownership with various different degrees of authority and responsibility associated with them.

Take this blog. I have the power to remove comments, and I can probably block people from making comments too. However, wordpress owns the site, not me, and they have the right to boot me if I do something that breaks their terms and conditions, or I do anything more generally illegal. Then wordpress are buying their website space from someone to whom they will be answerable, and that could impact on me in ways I have no power over.

Every facebook group has admins, and that’s true of any other space online. Someone has set it up, has control of it and can, at least in theory, moderate, ban, report and otherwise wield authority. Choosing not to use the power you have does not make it cease to exist. Every online space is managed by someone, and owned by a company who have authority over the space-manager, and probably owned again by the website host.

Offline you’ll find much the same thing. Every group, moot, grove, event, is run by someone. Not knowing who they are doesn’t mean they aren’t there. That person probably won’t own the space, so again there’s that second layer of authority – the pub landlord for the moot, the local council for the public land you do your rituals on and so forth.
There is nowhere Pagans get together that is not owned and in theory, managed. Some facilitators choose to be more active than others, some are better at it than others. In the best space, you don’t notice the manifestations of authority because they are good enough to be smoothly invisible.

Now, most of the time, the people who look after Pagan spaces – hold those facebook groups and blogs, run the moots and the rituals, are not paid. They put in their own time, money and energy, for the pleasure of making a thing go. I think this is worth bearing in mind. Any time you get into a public Pagan space, you are stepping into something that someone has made, put their energy into, and cares about. Think of it as walking into their garden, or their living room, if it helps. None of us would walk into someone’s house and deliberately crap on the floor, I assume, but we do it all the time in virtual spaces and I’ve seen a fair bit of it in actual ones (not literally, I hasten to add!).

We take the organisers for granted. We assume we have a right to demand things of them and that we are entitled to the service they provide, and so if we don’t think it’s up to scratch we hassle them. Remember these are unpaid volunteers, usually, and doing it for love. It is a different scenario when you are paying and someone is profiting, but it’s very easy to tell if you are paying and what you are paying for. Mostly you are paying for the venue hire. When we go into someone else’s space (and unless you are the one with the responsibility, it will be someone else’s space) and we are rude, inconsiderate, aggressive and so forth, we are not being fair to the person whose space it is. Now, maybe someone else was already being rude and aggressive, but, I go back to the pooing on the floor metaphor. The answer to someone taking a dump is not to take a retaliatory dump yourself. It just doesn’t work.

Every space, potentially, is sacred to someone. Every space, potentially, represents an act of love, service and devotion. That deserves respect, always. Not every space works. Not every space is free from problems. The question is, do we choose to trek in more muck, or do we offer to bring a bucket and mop and get our hands dirty actually putting things right again?

If you don’t support the people who run things, eventually they burn out, becoming so depressed and demoralised that they quit, and the space usually vanishes at that point. A little care of the people who are working on your behalf goes a long way, and makes more good things possible. What you do as a visiting individual really does matter.

Belonging not Belonging

Over the years I’ve been through several groves, half a dozen or so moots, various pagan organisations, online gatherings and lose social groupings. There are lots of reasons for moving on – many groups run out of steam and die of natural causes. Moving area cost me a lot of groups I would not have chosen to leave. But there’s also those harder times when you have to recognise that you don’t really fit and aren’t getting much out of an experience. Or it’s made clear to you that you just aren’t wanted.

I’ve wondered, writing the other posts about my history as a druid, how to tackle this thorny issue. I think in all relationships, including group ones, it has to be ok to leave or to express difficulty. People do not always get on, things do not work. I was, for example, entirely open at the time, about leaving www.thepaganandthepen.wordpress.com where I started druidlife as a column. I wanted my own space, I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone else anymore, and I didn’t want to have to worry about how my words impacted on the other folk there.

When I started druidlife as a column, I wondered if it was ok to call it that. I worried people would think I was speaking for druids and druidry in a way that I shouldn’t. I worried that I might accidentally cause conflict or bring druidry into disrepute. I left pagan and pen quietly, for my own reasons, and I left it with plenty of good people at the helm. At the time I was also fragile, exhausted, close to a total emotional breakdown and being fairly public about having escaped from an abusive relationship. Although I was struggling with responsibilities at pagan and pen, no one asked me to leave, nor would they have done for those reasons.

But somewhere else, other people did. I chose, for my own reasons, not to say much about it at the time. I knew I was dangerously close to breaking point and afraid that I was indeed a liability and that I might indeed bring paganism into disrepute just by being me, and being in trouble. I was also in a place of such low self esteem that I accepted the judgement, and felt personal shame over it. For a while I wondered if I had any entitlement at all to call myself a pagan, much less anything more specific.

Then a thing started to happen. One by one, people from my community got in touch with me. They sent words of love and reassurance, and also words of anger over the situation I was in. They rebuilt my sense of community and belonging, and I learned who my true friends are. What had been a personal disaster slowly transformed into a deep process of changing my perceptions, clarifying my beliefs and making me realise who I could depend on, and who I truly care for. Those of you who were there, should know who you are. I hold a deep and abiding love for the people who did not let me become totally isolated during that hard time. For the people who stood up for me, and who kept talking to me, and who did not reject me just because I was in trouble.

However, I came out of that period thinking that I probably wasn’t a group or organisation person after all. I retreated from involvement other places too. I didn’t want to go through anything like that again. I had rather imagined that I would continue with a community of individual friendships, but not seek to belong anywhere. And then life took another twist. When Druidry and Meditation came out, I contacted a few OBOD folk and mentioned that I’d been an OBODie. In the last few weeks I’ve swapped a lot of emails. I’ve got a blog post to write for them, I’ll be joining their celebrants listing, and they will carry my book in their store. Just thinking about this has brought a lump to my throat. I’m not your classic OBOD type, no white robes here, I’m scruffy, chaotic, unscripted… and they still want me. That feeling of being held by an organisation that has seen some worth in what I do, is worth more to me than I know how to express.

The desire to belong is, I think, a fairly basic one. When I first went solitary we talked on this blog about the degree to which solo druidry is a viable thing. There is such a strong community aspect to druidry, that at first I had no idea how to be a grove of one. I have my family unit, but we don’t do formal ritual. So I recognise that all through the last few years, I have wanted a place to fit and feel welcomed, but had come to the point of thinking it wasn’t even worth an ask. I don’t want to be tolerated. I don’t want to be put up with, grudgingly accepted and kept an eye on in case I do something inappropriate. I want a place to be where I’m accepted, warts and all. I can honestly say I never thought that would be OBOD. I thought OBOD too formal and myself too… all those other things. I never thought any organisation would be so positive about me. There’s the lovely folk at Moon Books too, enthusiastic about my work, pleased to include me. It changes my scope for imagining who I am. It will be a while before I stop looking over my shoulder and wondering if it’s really ok, but at least I can hope.