Cat Treadwell — professional Druid and nature-mystic - gives us a perspective from the English countryside.
Titles, Labels and Names
This week, I was acting as Public Druid at two (fortunately) well-attended events. The first was a talk I was giving on Paganism at a local University, as part of their Equality & Diversity initiative; the second, the launch of my first book.
Two very different situations, but in both, I was clearly The Pagan in The Room. Even though I was dressed relatively normally at both (jeans and neutral blouse), people were aware of me and my role, and viewed me accordingly.
Now, I'm not just trying to give myself airs, as my ancestors might have said. I try my damnedest not to be one of those egotistical 'Big Nose Pagans' that everyone knows about; I'm just me, doing my thing, and trying to represent Druidry and Paganism as well as I can, as a real person, not a stereotype.
Officiating at a Handfasting (photograph © J. Baxter)
But clearly there's a way to go yet. One of the questions at the talk was about how I refer to myself: 'Druid/Druidess, Priest/Priestess, or something else'. The enquirer genuinely wanted to know out of interest but also because he was concerned about potentially causing offense by using the wrong terminology.
At the book launch, jokes were made about my being 'High Priestess', and a 'big, famous Author'. At least, I hope they were jokes.
To me, words have power. By which I don't mean that if you know something's true name, you have power over it (that just means you can yell at it with a reasonable chance of a reply). Look at the labels above. The simpleness of adding 'ess' to a title immediately changes that word, making it female in connotation - thus making the original male, and thus 'default'.
I know full well that adding 'High' to Priest or Priestess is incredibly loaded within the Pagan community. To everyday Muggle folk, it's a honorific; to others, it may mean that I'm a teacher, community leader, organiser of a coven or group, bestower of initiations... any number of things.
My favourite introduction was a colleague at the Healing Centre where I work, asked to describe me. She pondered for a moment, before saying: "Well, Cat's just... Cat."
Private Connection - from book jacket (photograph ©Peacock Pix)
I know that we need labels as useful tools to quickly categorise things. I know that we do understand them more deeply than as just a name. But it's difficult to communicate the truth of a thing so simply. A label is the start of an understanding, not a total description.
And yet, in the Pagan community, we set such store by those titles. I've spoken before of it, being aware of the minefield that I'm about to step into with this discussion, but it genuinely confuses and frustrates me.
If you're worked hard for your title, then I'm very glad - but I would learn that not simply from the title alone, but by your actions.
If you bought the title on the Internet, exactly the same applies. This is true of anything worked for (or not) - quite often, those who feel the need to wave their honorifics around are often least qualified to do so.
At the end of the day, I'm just me. I live my faith as best I can, walking my path, and trying to inspire by example. Every person's path is their own; nobody can be in exactly the same situation, with exactly the same background experiences. But my experiences don't entitle me to claim authority over those of others; mine are not somehow 'more valid' because I'm out there in public.
I love to hear the stories of those who chat to me, be they active students, family members at their first Handfasting, or those seeking help. I think that would be true just because I love to hear stories - that's part of my make-up.
It took me a long time to take the decision to call myself 'Priest' (in the same sense that female Actors call themselves Actor, not Actress) - but that was because that word carries huge weight in my head. I wanted to ensure that I was worthy of the title, more than the gender issues. And to be honest, I'm really not bothered what people call me. As I told the questioner at the University, as long as it's not rude, I'm generally fine.
I prefer people to ask, to learn, rather than to take a title, label or name and place assumptions onto that. These are based on associations rather than real experiences, and so are basically groundless, fiction. You wouldn't believe how many times I've been asked about Druidry being male-oriented, why I don't wear white robes (grass stains), or my partner being assumed to be in charge (I refer to him as my 'stunt beard', as Druids seem to require one).
It's my challenge to remember to hold on to myself while working in public. To not buy into any vague notion of 'celebrity', but to keep my integrity to myself, my gods and my ancestors. I know that if I don't, I'll be tripped up soon enough - but deterrent alone is not the reason.
If I'm representing Druids and Pagans in the wider world, I'm doing my best to do right by them. There's a multitude of beliefs out there; there's no way that I can strike exactly the right chord with them all. But by walking my path honestly, living my truth and trying to learn as I go (as well as teach), I hope to inspire that same curiousity and integrity in others - and create interest rather than fear.
So when you next step out as a Pagan, Druid, Witch or whatever... why are you taking on that label? Do you represent it well? And does it best represent you?
Me and Partner walking the dog, while photographer hides in a bush to catch us 'naturally' (photograph ©Peacock Pix)
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