Tag Archives: service

Druidry check-in

I find it helpful to pause and take stock every now and then, considering where I’m focused in my Druid journey, what’s important for me and what’s changing. It’s good to review things, to consider the journey deliberately and to think about where I might want to go and whether I need to make any deliberate changes.

Service: This used to be a much bigger part of my path, but I’ve been less involved with activism and with running things in recent years. I’m doing a teensy bit of mentoring. I do my best to help amplify other people, and I continue speaking up about mental health and domestic abuse. Otherwise, my main area of concern is looking at how we tackle things collectively. So many problems – and most especially the climate crisis – are being treated as things to deal with individually when that doesn’t work at all.

Meditation: Meditation, and contemplation have been major parts of my Druidry. I find at the moment I’m tending more towards contemplation and gestating ideas. I need to think about things, to build ideas, to channel raw inspiration into action.

Ritual: Including celebrant work, and having a steady prayer practice, ritual has really fallen by the wayside for me. It’s not what’s calling to me at the moment and I’m fine with that. I don’t have the right spaces or the inspiration at present.

Healing: This is becoming a major focus for me as I work on strengthening my body and doing the things that enable my mind to recover. This is a key underpinning – my ability to connect with the natural world has been sorely limited by how bodily ill I’ve been in the last couple of years. My ability to perform, to do rituals, to travel for events even, has all been compromised. Improving my health will give me a lot more scope to explore the path again, and that’s looking feasible to at least some degree. Honouring nature as it manifests in my own body is going to be more of a thing.

Deity: I have had an ambivalent relationship with deity, to say the least. Those of you who have been following me for longer will have seen the mix of longing and disconnection that has mostly been underpinning how I approach deity. That seems to be changing for me at the moment, and is likely to be a major focus going forwards.

Bard Path: This has always been the centre, for me. The idea of inspiration as inherently sacred, is the heart of my life and no doubt always will be. I’ve had a profoundly fruitful time of it lately in terms of being inspired, having projects I’m invested in and fabulous co-creators to work with. I’m doing more to take my creativity out into the world in all kinds of ways, and I feel really good about all of that. This is what I am for, and this is how I best handle all the many aspects of my Druidry, exploring, expressing and offering to others.

Magic: The idea of magic has always been with me, but depression can be made of disenchantment. Things have changed for me on this score, as part of the same process that has me exploring deity and feeling much more inspired. It’s become possible to have room for wonder, enchantment and a sense of possibility – partly because I’ve been surfacing from the depths of depression, and partly as a thing that has helped me pull out of the depression. I suspect this is something I’ll be talking about a lot more once I’m further into the process and have a better understanding of the mechanics.

Practices change over time. Druidry is a very large forest with a great many ways through it and a great deal to explore. Staying in one part of that is just as valid as wandering about.

Druidry and Desire

Back in my twenties I was, for a little while, a member of The Druid Order of the Yew, which was held within The Druid Network. A big part of what it offered at the time was space and witnessing for dedications. I was really focused on service at the time and framing my Druidry in terms of what I could give. Alongside this I had a problematic home life. The idea of giving more and asking for less became heavily ingrained.

Of course there are always people who want what you can do for them and offer little in return. There are always people who will become unpleasant if you try to show up as a person and not as a service provider. I’ve never been good at handling this and have tended to think that I should offer service and expect nothing in return from anyone. It’s taken a while to challenge that thinking.

What happens if I ask for more? There will be people who don’t like that, and who will either be clear about having a problem with me, or who will gently reverse out of my life and make good their escape. But not everyone. There are also the people whose eyes light up at the thought, and who feel cheered and validated by my wanting more from them and with them. People who aren’t afraid of being needed and who do not experience being valued as some kind of imposition.

I’ve spent a long time treating Druidry as a form of pouring endlessly from myself into the world. Give more, ask for less. Give until it hurts, and then keep giving. I look back and see how convenient that’s been for other people in my history. I also think with hindsight that the person who most encouraged me to shape my service this way was not living on those terms. They are painfully hard terms to live on. 

Child-me had a better handle on this. I remember sitting in an assembly being told about how we are all supposed to help those who are worse off than us and wondering how that even made sense and how on earth you get to be the person who needs helping, on those terms. That a doctrine of giving selflessly to others actually relies on there being people worse off, more vulnerable. You can’t forgive trespasses unless someone undertakes to trespass, either.

What happens if there is more room for desire? What happens if I ask for more, and not less? I start to see how this could enrich not only my experience, but the experiences of people dealing with me. If I allow myself to want, there is a different kind of energy available to me. I cannot pour out from myself endlessly with nothing to replenish me. I can do a lot more if I invite more richness in, and have room for what I need.

Service cannot be a person pouring endlessly from a bucket they do not get to refill. The more I look at it, the more important it seems to me that we all have space for things that are personal, enriching, nurturing, life enhancing and I dare to say it – selfish! I know that the dismantling of selfishness is often seen as a spiritual goal, but increasingly I think what helps most is to change the terms on which we think about our own needs. A person can seek what they want without that inevitably hurting someone else. It is not always the case that for one person to have more, someone else has to go without.

No one is poorer if I have enriching conversations, time in the sun, cat snuggles, affection, time off… no one is reduced by me having things I need for myself. I expect I will come back to this as I reframe what service might mean for me, and rethink how I want to be in the world.

A sense of direction

When I dedicated to the bard path, I promised to use my creativity for the good of my tribe and the good of the land. The land part has always been easy to identify, if hard to protect in this exploitative, destructive age. ‘Tribe’ has always been trickier. Who are my tribe? Who should I be helping and supporting? Where can I do most good? I’ve put myself forward in Pagan groups, in politics, and I’ve stepped up to try and help fellow authors and creatives, all of this in paid and unpaid configurations. I’ve been looking for a tribe to serve.

It’s tricky. I need to work in ways that achieve something and that I feel good about. I’ve fallen out of a few spaces along the way simply because I didn’t have the resources or information to be able to do anything well, and the frustration of it ground me down.  Creativity depends on inspiration, and volunteering depends on energy, and I am more motivated by results than anything else. I’ve fallen out of some spaces because of internal politics, and I’m not good at dealing with people who are afraid I will become too prominent and important, and for whom keeping me under control is more important than getting good things done. I’ve fallen out of spaces through sheer boredom as well.

What I want is to build community, sustainability, and resilience. I want to help people flourish and do more good. I want more joy and better things for as many people as I can manage to bring that to.

I knew at the start of this year that I’d likely be picking a place to stand – or a few places. I’ve eyed up various groups and I’ve waited to see who made moves towards me. It’s been an interesting six months, and at this point, I feel I know where I’m going. I’m building a worker’s co-operative around the Hopeless Maine project. I’m putting more energy into Moon Books, and Sloth Comics. I shall carry on volunteering for The Pagan Federation and The Woodland Trust and writing for all the magazines I’ve been writing for. I shall be investing more energy in Transition Stroud as well – this is about transitioning to more sustainable ways of living.

I’ve learned not to work with people who are half hearted about me, or grudgingly make a place for me. I’ve also learned not to work with people who simply see me as a resource to exploit. You can’t build better things if what’s going around you is crap. You can’t bring good into the world if the project you’re in is inherently unethical in how it gets things done. None of us benefit from being treated like objects for use. Breaking people for causes isn’t good, and making personal influence more important than the cause isn’t good either. But all of that said, many good spaces exist full of people intent on doing the best they can with what they have, and those are the places that deserve energy invested in them and that reward you if you give what you can. In such a space, giving what you can becomes rewarding of itself.

Druidry, service, exploitation and entitlement

In theory, service is part of the Druid path. However, it is all too easy for things to go wrong around service, taking us either towards exploitative situations, or ones where people develop unreasonable feelings of entitlement. Which way a person goes I think often depends on how they were to start with. People with low self esteem and poor boundaries are easily exploited. People with unhealthily big egos easily develop entitlement issues.

Most places that need volunteers have more that needs doing than there are resources to get the things done. A willing volunteer is often at risk of being asked to do more, and more. If that volunteer can’t hold their boundaries, they can end up working themselves into the ground, burning out, becoming ill. It’s not an acceptable outcome. In some cases, the exploitation can be deliberate, and this tends to happen when there’s someone in the mix who wants power and feels entitled.

When volunteers have entitlement issues, they feel that the work they do (and often they don’t do much) entitles them to certain kinds of treatment. They should be given more power, power over others. They demand unearned respect, resources flow towards them that should not flow towards them. They become more important than the project. Volunteers with entitlement issues drive away or break the volunteers who came to give. They distort projects, sometimes they ruin them.

How do we avoid this happening? I think the key thing is to look at the contract between volunteers, or between volunteers and organisations. Most of the time, that contract is never explored or spoken of, but it exists nonetheless in people’s minds.

A good volunteer comes to the work first and foremost because they believe in it. They are sustained if they have the resources and support to do the work and the feedback to know they are effective and valued. Good volunteers probably want to feel part of something, and they need watching to make sure they aren’t over-burdened. They need respect, taking seriously, and acknowledgement.

An exploiter will withhold information and resources, refuse to praise and encourage, and always ask for more. People who came to give cannot keep giving in such environments. Where a culture of supporting volunteering in the way I’ve suggested above is in place, it’s more obvious when someone is there for a power trip.

The entitled volunteer spends more time talking about how great they are than they spend doing anything. They will use the cause as a platform to raise their own profile. They can be charismatic, confident and apparently very useful indeed which makes spotting them harder, but not impossible. It takes collective willingness not to give power to someone with entitlement issues. If the people around them will not massage their egos, they will eventually give up and move on, but this is not easily achieved. If you are running volunteers, it is worth dropping people with manifest entitlement issues because they will damage the rest of the volunteers to get ahead, and damage any culture you may have been trying to build.

Ask outright what people want from volunteering, and listen carefully to what they tell you.

Who does the Druid serve?

The call to service is a significant part of the Druid path. Who or what a Druid may serve is a much more personal question. Broadly speaking, land, tribe, gods, nature, ancestors, tradition, spirit and awen would be likely candidates, either in combination or focusing on just the one. How that manifests can be incredibly diverse – serving the land could mean running an organic community allotment. It could mean getting into politics, becoming an activist, planting trees or giving up your car, to suggest a few obvious routes.

Service has to be needed. It’s all too easy to use the idea of service to further our own goals or fuel self-importance. That in itself isn’t entirely a problem – Druidry is not a path of self effacing modesty after all, but if your Druidry gives you a boost in some way, it must also genuinely serve someone else to count as service. The bard as archetype offers a great example here. To be on stage, basking in the adoration of an audience is to get personal benefit from what you do. However, if the audience is inspired and uplifted, if their souls are touched and their hearts healed by what the bard offers, then the bard is serving their community, tradition and the awen and likely a few other things as well.

Service cannot be a flow in one direction only. If you come to give, then something has to nurture you, or you end up drained and defeated, or going mad in other ways. Paths of martyrdom offer their own interesting temptations, and people who are most ostentatiously self-sacrificing can be on the most outrageous of ego trips. Where service is held in a more balanced way, it works better and everyone stays sane.

It is important to look not only at how we serve, but how we are served, and to make sure gratitude flows back where it is needed. The bard on the stage owes greatly to the event organiser, the sound person, the person who taught them to play, the people, stories and landscapes that inspire them. Inspiration, service and gratitude, offering back from what was made, keeps all participants nourished and feeling valued. It keeps people grounded, and also able to give. It means that people whose work is all background get to feel part of the exciting bits. It’s when we start imagining that we are separate and alone, that our service flows purely from us, and people ought to be grateful that a Druid courts problems.

I would, quite simply, be lost without the people who inspire me from day to day. I would be lost without the people who value my work and come back to tell me this so that I understand what I’m doing and why. (Iva broke my heart and fed the fire in my head with this beautiful review of my book, recently) I need the people who give me opportunities to get on stages, sing, run workshops, write books. I need the people who read what I write and ask for more songs. I need the people who get up and do things such that I can go and be in the audience. I need the people who write books and tell stories. And without the people who taught me, this would all be a moot point anyway.

Every act of creativity exists in a context, there are always other hands that you can’t see, making things possible. Where those flows of inspiration are honoured, where love and appreciation flow along the same lines, life is better, and there is more good stuff.

A call with no answer

The experience of being called gives a sense of purpose and direction to things we might do. The call to serve as a Druid, the call to activism, to writing and other forms of creativity. A sense of having been called to act implies meaning, a whiff of destiny perhaps, an impression of being wanted. And if it works, things flow towards you, opportunities to act and speak. Callings such as these result in people like Philip Carr-Gomm, J K Rowling, Caroline Lucas… callings give you Einstein, and Ghandi. On the darker side, calling can also give you serial killers, tyrants, lunatics.

But mostly not.

Callings are not always answered. They don’t always mean that doors will open, or that what you do will bear fruit any time you can see it. Van Gough spent his life poor, obscure and struggling. Only after death was he taken seriously, and the fame that has since validated his work, was never available to him. While it’s possible to go through life clinging to a belief that at some point, what you do will prove worth it, the longer you go on banging your head against a wall and making little difference, the harder it is to justify.

Just exactly how much does a person have to do to answer a calling? How much success? How much usefulness? How much service? There are no tidy answers to this. When is it fairer to say that the call to serve is really a call of ego, a call to be important? Surely, if we believe in our calling our vision, we should be willing to do the work no matter how unvalued, how ridiculed, how financially compromised it leaves us… surely that’s what a real calling means.

But how do you tell, if the thing driving you is truly a calling, truly purposeful, or if it’s just the desire to be loved and famous? How do you tell if the dream is any good, if most of the feedback you get suggests it has little or no value to anyone? The history of cutting edge creative people is a history full of depression, despair, and too many suicides. The roll call of brilliant people, modern and historical, who did not survive their thirties, is almost unbearable to reflect on. Mozart died young and in poverty, so did Robbie Burns. Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain… too many names. Too many callings that could not be survived, too many people who were truly valued only after they were gone.

How do you tell if a dream is worth giving your life to? When do you say ‘enough’? When does it stop being brave and visionary and start being irresponsible, self indulgent, deluded… And if it is not possible to be great or significant, is it worth showing up, day after day, to be small, modest, a little bit useful sometimes, liked by a few people?

I simply do not know, but this is the rock I break against every few months, pouring hours into work that does not pay, conscious that my most useful economic contribution to my family is as housewife, kidding myself each time that the next project will be the one that really takes off. The next project will be the one where I finally manage to do to something I think holds up. When do dreams become insanity?

I recall a recent interview with Leonard Cohen in which he said it was this or wash dishes, he couldn’t do anything else. But that’s ok because he’s Leonard Cohen and he’s never going to need to find something else to do. But for every Leonard Cohen out there, how many of us are there? The hundreds, thousands of never made the grade, never turned that calling into an answer, those of us who put the best we have into the world, and find that we would indeed be more useful washing dishes. With hindsight, fame and success validates the years of struggle, for some, but for many there is never anything to justify to the world the time we spent on the things we made. The scorn and ridicule this attracts is both reliable and unfunny. I talked about the struggles of the creative life before, and got a comment to the effect that I have a hobby, not a job, and how dare I imagine I was better than someone who earned a living doing mundane things. I’ll probably carry that one with me as long as I live. The assumption of arrogance in my desire to live by doing the thing I do best. A call with no answer.

Druidry and service

The call to service is an important part of modern Druidry. This is not an especially unique feature as most, probably all religions try to instil in followers a duty to do something their people or deity would find useful. We don’t have any clearly laid down ways of giving service as a Druid. You have to find something that fits with your ethical position and your personal philosophy, and do that.

As a community we often do a very poor job of recognising each other’s service. The work put in by volunteers who create and hold together Druid organisations is often overlooked at best. Druid volunteers are often met with demands as though they are paid employees, or as though their gift of service makes it ok to use them. Accusations of only being there in service to your own ego and self importance are also depressingly common and demoralising. So we call people to serve, and when they do so within our own community, we give them a hard time over it, and we stand by in silence while other people give volunteers a hard time. That really ought to change. If you have no other service, consider standing up for those who serve as a good contribution to make. Look after your grove leaders, order organisers, event runners and ritual celebrants. Trust me, most of them need the help and will be grateful and more able for your doing this.

The picture is not so very different when a Druid goes out to serve in the wider community. It doesn’t help that every last organisation dependent on volunteers does not have the funding or the human resources to do the job. A willing volunteer will often find the gentle refrains of ‘can you just…’ and ‘we really need…’ slowly takes over their life. How do you say no to the good cause, the much needed intervention? How do you say ‘enough’ in the matter of service? It’s very hard to say ‘no’ when you’re acutely aware of all the things that are going wrong. When you step up as a volunteer in any capacity, you will expose yourself to more stories of all that is awful, and you will suffer, and need to do more. Volunteer burnout is of course one of the reasons that charities and the like are so often short of volunteers.

Serving in a sustainable way sounds like the logical answer, but emotionally it isn’t. Yes, if you want to keep giving you have to stay well. The decision to put you first rather than homeless children, the hungry disabled, the creature threatened with extinction… that’s not an easy choice to make and the more aware you are, the harder it gets. But make that choice you must, because more broken people means more that needs doing, more care that needs pouring into the mixing bowl, and fewer people who can give. Being part of the solution requires us to survive.

Pagan Service

Service, that fine Druid (and others) practice of turning up and giving your best because it’s needed. Service to Gods, land and tribe, not for any personal gain, but because it is the right thing to do. It has to be open hearted and unconditional, or it isn’t service. I’ve been lying awake this morning poking this as an issue, because it so often goes badly for me. I’ll willingly show up to whatever needs doing, pour heart and soul, everything I have into doing the best job I can, and at the end am left bruised, exhausted, and quite often feeling that it wasn’t enough, or that it was somehow an imposition. People who will ask for everything I’m capable of and more, and then belittle, shame and/or push me away for having given that. Doing it freely is one thing, doing it and then being wounded for doing it, is another.

Service needs a context to exist, and that context is all about honourable relationship. It’s all too easy, when someone gives freely, to take that for granted. Much of mainstream culture encourages aggressive, acquisitive, competitive thinking. When that is the norm, the person who gives freely is easily branded as weak, foolish, and fair game for exploitation. If you can get something for nothing out of a person, that makes you clever, by regular standards and it will make you more successful while the person who gives won’t get ahead.

Volunteers make the charitable sector viable. Schools depend on the time, efforts and extra cash parents give. Our national health service gets a lot of mileage out of people who care for sick family members, fundraisers and contributions to medical charities. Politics depends on grass roots folk turning up and giving freely, as do many things that cause communities to exist and be viable. Paganism would not have viable communities, magazines, teaching groups and rituals without volunteers. Everyone wants volunteers, service and generosity, but so often that’s treated with disrespect, and it’s a cultural thing.

It is possible to treat people as though they have a value without giving them money. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what really makes the difference here, and I think it’s about the place of the volunteer in the community. If you mistreat a volunteer, it is easy to make them feel there’s only a place for them if they turn up to give. If your unconditional service becomes the condition for being present, all kinds of things start to go wrong. The volunteer has less sense of innate worth and an increasing awareness of only having a place in so far as they provide service. What started as an unconditional gift becomes an exceedingly conditional arrangement, where all of the onus is on the person who gives. I have been in organisations that, for a time, pretty much did this deliberately. Eventually this breaks your volunteers.

If someone offers service you can afford to assume there is something important in this, for them. They show up only because they care. People who do not give a shit, do not serve. So they’re passionate about the cause, the space, the community, the person they’ve dedicated to… whatever it may be. It is this passion that makes unconditional service viable. The more serious the person is, the less they will ask for. But that doesn’t make it ok to give nothing in response to service.

We need to recognise that the people who serve love what they are doing. Scope to be in that space, part of that tribe, around the focus of devotion without having to be unconditionally giving stuff all the time makes things a lot more emotionally stable. If we honour those who give, we might try figuring out how to take better care of them.

Feeding your soul

Most of the conversations I’ve had around Druidry lately seem to be based around ideas of service, and what we can give. However, there is a balance to strike, because no one can give endlessly without having something flowing back towards them, as well. Some service is innately rewarding, which makes it a lot easier to sustain, but some of it isn’t. The woes of the world are many, and can be totally overwhelming. The more attention you pay to all the things that need your energy, love and compassion, the more risk you take of burning yourself out, heart and mind. There is so much wrong, so much that needs to be done, and the enormity of that can paralyse a person.

In order to be able to participate in the world, we need to take care of ourselves, too. Feeding your own soul means taking time to do the things that keep you together and inspired. It’s about looking after your heart so you do not get bruised into numb incapacity.

What feeds you? What fills your heart with joy and gives you peace and a sense of wonder? What is it that reminds you of all the reasons to keep slogging away against the hard stuff? It’s well worth knowing what’s on your list.

For me, contact with the natural world is a must, and I normally get that by walking. I am fed by contact with other people’s creativity – pretty much any form. The more soulful the creation, the more benefit I derive from it. One of the reasons I don’t like plastic disposable entertainment much is that I do not find it nourishing or sustaining. The intellectual buzz of learning and sharing ideas, the company of good friends, the comfort of bed, the simple pleasures of good food and wine…

While money will facilitate a good deal, as an end in itself it does nothing for me. It has to be a good book, a good film, a good conversation. I’ve grown fussy, because giving over a few hours to something that, in nutritional terms is a bit like licking candy of a dry turd, just doesn’t appeal. I’m too aware of all the other things that need my time and attention to be comfortable throwing away hours on that which is a flimsy surface with nothing underneath, or worse than nothing…. I don’t like the candy enough to be willing to tolerate the turd.

There’s no one true way here. Whatever feeds your soul, for whatever reasons and in whatever way, is the thing you need. No one else has to like it or get it, for it to be true. If your soul food is sadistic or destructive, I have no idea what you do, and I’m pretty sure there are people who can only feed themselves on the pain and misery of others. But for the rest of us, watch out for the candy covered turds. They turn up in bright packages handed over by people who will say ‘you must have this’. Only your own soul food can nourish you, and only you can figure out what that is.

Honouring the dead

Today is the anniversary of the end of the First World War. Here in the UK we will be honouring the soldiers killed in armed conflicts. I’ll be very clear up front: I take no issue with people who are soldiers as a general premise. Individual conduct is a different thing. I am not questioning honouring the war dead in any way (emotive topic after all) but I am questioning the things we don’t do alongside that.

The desire to serve and protect has always brought people to armies. Propaganda and tales of glory, cultural pressure and politically nurtured fear: Honest reasons to defend hearth and home that no individual should be blamed for responding to. Formal drafts and recruitment by force mean that many who have fought and died were not there by choice. Poverty and lack of other opportunities has always been a great army recruiting officer, too. I do not blame anyone for doing what they had to, to survive. Thinking about soldiers dropped into disaster zones, and the way these trained and disciplined people can be mobilised in any emergency… there’s a lot of good work you can do with an army that is not about killing people.

Wars have always been about people in power wanting more power and more resources. If you are obliged to fight to defend your home and way of life, you have every right to do so, but never forget this only happens because some power hungry bastard has started a thing.

War does not just kill soldiers. We do not talk about the medical folk, men and women alike, who died trying to save lives. We do not speak of the men and boys who died in the merchant navy, trying to keep countries supplied with essentials. Their work is no less heroic – and arguably more so because it is simply directed towards preserving life, and often undertaken with no arms or armour.

In the First World War, one fifth of the casualties were civilian. By the end of the 20th century, your typical war inflicted a 90% civilian casualty rate, while wars in the 20th century accounted for some 187 million lives worldwide. (Figures taken from John Keane’s The Life and Death of Democracy). Wars kill off countless animals, both those used to facilitate it, and those who are ‘collateral damage’ alongside their civilian human neighbours. Landscapes and eco systems are destroyed by bombs, alongside culture and heritage. War destroys.

It is simply not enough to honour those who fought and died. We need to start talking about what war actually means, and what it actually costs. The best tribute we could pay to the many victims of war, and especially those who fought, would be to cease this madness. World War One was supposed to be the war to end all wars. It wasn’t. We failed them. We owe our war dead more than that. We owe each other more than that and we owe it to the future. Killing people is not the answer, the ‘collateral damage’ of murdering civilians is not acceptable, and there is no excuse.