Cat Treadwell — professional Druid and nature-mystic - gives us a perspective from the English countryside.
Leadership & Perception
There's been a lot of talk lately in the blogging world about the idea of 'Pagan Community'. I've written a little about it, from my point of view of course. But more ideas are coming as the year moves forward, and it's interesting to see how things are developing, based on both the evolution of the Pagan 'world' and the everyday one.
Generally speaking, Pagans are a social bunch. We like to get together and chat, whinge a bit, put the world to rights over a drink or two, and generally feel the comfort of like-minded folk. Nothing wrong with this at all.
But there are also those of us who prefer solitary practice, working alone, perhaps communicating over the Internet with specific friends, but more comfortable walking our own path in our own way, thank you.
I think we've probably all got experience of both of these. By definition, spirituality is fairly individualistic and subjective. Personal practice, in your own room, with your own private altar space, will continue; individual perceptions and understanding of wider spiritual ideas will be explored. It's the extent to which we want (or are happy) to share those with others.
I can fully understand the nervousness of this issue. It wasn't too long ago that even calling yourself 'Witch' in public was an absolute no-no, and this can still be the case, sadly. But there are now (inter)national organisations that aim to help, of which I am a member of two in the UK: the Pagan Federation and The Druid Network.
Both groups share local information to help people get together with others in their area, and generally do their thing in good company. Going along to a moot requires a certain amount of guts, true - turning up to a room full of strangers who might or might not agree with, understand or even like you. But that's the risk of a new social situation. The tacit endorsement of a wider group organisation helps to provide a little security and legitimacy as you make your decision whether to 'go public', even on a small scale.
What's interesting to see recently, however, is the gradual decline in support for such groups. The Pagan Federation in particular appears to be suffering from a decline in membership, despite their continued work to support Pagans in their personal and working lives, including solid hospital, prison, legal and crisis networks, online information, the aforementioned local contacts... These are foundations that we need, as a growing and evolving (and oft-misunderstood) spirituality in society.
The reason for this decline, then? Perceived power games. From what I have seen and heard (with regard to the PF in particular), people no longer view such organisations as worth their time or subscription, because they 'don't do anything for me' and are all about the ego-trips of those with 'power' or titles.
This actually makes me both sad and confused. Because I understand what these nay-sayers mean... and also what it feels like from within the 'leadership caste' of the group (so to speak).
I'm a Volunteer for the PF, and a Trustee of TDN. I pay my subscriptions to both, as a Member. Nobody - NOBODY - has more power than anyone else. But some Members choose to take on certain duties because they have the time, skills and willingness to help other Members. They are doing this for their community, as part of their commitment to their faith.
I get minimal expenses, very little 'cred' and a very busy inbox as a result of this work. You have to have a strong spine to deal with some of the sheer weirdness that comes your way - and the bile and negativity. I know that myself and the other volunteers all have moments of wanting to throw our hands up and just walk away. So why do we do it?
For those messages that we get saying 'thank you'. 'You've really helped me - please keep doing what you're doing.' 'Your work is so important.'
The Pagan Community - however you identify or perceive that - has the potential to be so very strong. It needs a group identity to hold its legitimacy against the wider world, as that's the way the wider world is structured and achieves understanding. Pagans may be challenging this and causing certain social norms to be completely rethought (eg TDN forcing the Charity's Commission to change its understanding of the word 'religion'), but we still need to work within it to create that change.
Stamping our feet and bitching in a pub or online forum while not doing anything yourself is simply foolish. We all do it, sure - but the look on people's faces when I simply say 'No, that's not true'. I challenge the whinging, the ill-informed lazy thinking of some who simply want to criticise those brave enough to stand up and represent their own spirituality and other identified Pagans. Because as we all know, those who stand up publicly set themselves up to get their heads shot off as they're stuck above the parapet.
Yes - leaders need challenging. Yes - it's important to speak up if you're not happy. We all have voices to be heard.
But our challenge in a faith made up of many many individuals, all with their slightly differing ways, is to acknowledge their validity and work together, as identified Pagans. To help those who stand up publicly; those who need support privately. Our fellows, friends, brothers and sisters in spirit if not blood.
I may be repeating myself a little from previous writings, but this is something I do feel passionately about. I know we're not all going to agree (or even get on) but we have common ground simply by being here. Surely we can open our minds enough to incorporate the amazing variety that a group can contain? Overcome our fear that our own ways may be challenged? Be strong in our spirituality, but able to laugh at it sometimes?
My constant questions, then: How are you living your spirituality? And: What are you doing about it?
Blessings of the Spring thaws, my friends x
Snowflakes, by Bish - from The Druid Network website
All other photographs property of and copyright to the author
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