Pagan protest and feminism

Public domain image of "The Witch, No. 1"

I have been reflecting on recent discussions that have taken place on various pagan spaces, especially on Facebook, regarding the recent (and ongoing) pagan protests against Trump. I regret to report that most of the discussions I have read have been incredibly negative, especially with regards the various iterations of people conducting public rituals based primarily around witchcraft.

While I found the reports of people getting out and protesting in new and creative ways to be hugely inspiring, not everyone agrees. And that’s ok but some of the things people were saying as reasons for disagreeing troubled me and I am going to try and address some of them here. As a caveat, healthy discussion is good, hurling abuse is not. So please do not do that in the comments or at anyone within the community (or outside) who agrees or disagrees with this subject matter.

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Practical druidry

I’ve always been a big fan of using your hands and doing stuff when it comes to spirituality, whatever yours may be. The title of this blogpost is inspired by one of my favourite films, Practical Magic.

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Starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, it’s a very VERY 90s film with witchcraft and complicated romance, including a weird possessed-zombie-ex-boyfriend thrown into the mix. But why do I love this film so much? Well, for all its slightly bonkers script writing, I love how practical witchcraft is woven in throughout the film. With Sandra Bullock’s character opening a botanical shop, and her aunts practicing something resembling some form of traditional kitchen witchcraft, the film inspired me a lot. I don’t know enough about traditional witchcraft to be sure but either way, it seems a very practical approach with an emphasis on keeping everything in balance and using resources that you’ve grown/created yourself.

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Burn it down and start again

Kalapana_May_2009

So I’ve just spent the past few hours merging two of my druidry blogs, finding that exporting/importing didn’t quite work as seamlessly as I would like and fixing all of the broken images and links. Why did I do all of this? Well because I want to get serious about my druidry again.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been serious up until this point but I want to be more consistent and dedicated to exploring it as a path, which for me means also reflecting on that through writing about it and blogging seems to be the most useful and effective way of doing this.

After dabbling in OBOD study and perusing the ADF programme, I got completely fed up and decided to realise my druidry through my environmental science course and let that be that. After a year or so of studying really hard and learning lots about the world that we call home, which has been an amazing experience so far, I feel ready to start complementing my scientific study with some spiritual study too.

A big turning point for me recently, and one which was sort of steadily building in my mind already, was going to my first ever Druid Camp. If I’m honest, the thought of attending such a big gathering scared me quite a lot. The last “camp” I went to was when I was still a Catholic and it was an intense affair with lots of strong beliefs and religious experiences going on all over the place. As this isn’t really how I practice my druidry, I was nervous that by going to something with people I didn’t know for a relatively long period of time in the middle of nowhere, I would somehow find myself in situations that made me uncomfortable and not being able to leave without offending a whole swathe of people.

Thankfully that isn’t what happened at all. I was able to choose what workshops I wanted to go to which meant that I was able to learn about druidry in a way that lined up with my own path. I chose lots of practical workshops and learned to knit, how to make mead and how to make a crane bag. I also went to some excellent talks by Penny Billington, Philip Shallcrass and Kris Hughes. I already know Kris so it was lovely to reconnect with him (if anything he was the one who encouraged me to go to Druid Camp!) and while I only spoke briefly to Philip, I had the opportunity to spend some considerable time with Penny and Prof Graham Harvey (another speaker) and I learned a huge amount from them, not least about how you practice your druidry is a very personal experience and that that is ok.

All participants at the Druid Camp were offered a gift by the Green Man as part of the opening ritual – we chose our gift from a box without looking…and were rewarded with a lovely ogham piece to wear around our necks. The tree we chose would later become more significant when we prepared for the community ritual but sufficed to say my getting the oak ogham from the Green Man was enough of a kick-up-the-bum from the universe to do this druidry thing or not do it at all.

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My ogham

So I’m trying. I will try to write regularly about all sorts of things, whether that be a cool book I read, or something I made, or even something I learned as part of my environmental course. And I hope that it helps others as well as me. So, see you soon!

Young people in Druidry

StonehengeThe other day I listened to Druidcast (OBOD’s regular podcast) and lately they have been including recordings of talks from OBOD’s relatively recent 50th anniversary celebration events in Glastonbury. Every month’s offering has been fantastic to listen to and really inspirational, but this month’s (#94) was completely different.

First up was the excellent Joanna van der Hoeven, whose books I am currently working through and which I will write a review of in the next week or so.

But the second speaker was a fantastic chap by the name of Jonathan Woolley, who is currently doing his PhD which looks at people working with the land, at Cambridge University. Jonathan is also 26 and a Druid. As someone not too much older than him, I found hearing from someone within my age range talking about Druidry to be really impactful, as were so many of the points that he made during his talk.

Jonathan mostly focused on age and image. While I couldn’t see his slides because all I had was an audio recording to work with, I can only assume that he was showing the audience the typical image of an older, white bearded man which is often what people think of when they think ‘Druid’. He did an activity with those in the room where he got everyone to stand up, then sit down if they were over the age of 40. From the sounds of the chuckling, I could only imagine that that was a fair number!

To emphasise the point that he was trying to make, Jonathan explored the fact that during the Iron Age (a period of history where a lot of what we know about the Druids comes from), living to 40 was almost unheard of and that many Druids would have been in their 20s, not too unlike Jonathan himself.

He also spoke about the inclusion of young people within the present Druidic community and explored the topic of outreach. He emphasised the need for good websites and other online spaces where people can find information about Druidry when exploring it as a spiritual path. He mentioned the lack of a pagan presence on popular platforms such as Tumblr (which I use and can confirm that this is often the case!) and that YouTube can be a really good platform to share decent quality video content for relatively little effort.

While he did commend people for the content that exists, he also encouraged the community to do more. He even mentioned having a VLE for people to download OBOD course materials and follow the course online, which I positively whooped at because that would be amazing!

I’m summarising many of the points that Jonathan made and I really recommend that you go and listen to the podcast now so you can really get a feel for all of the wonderful things that he said.

My main feeling as a young(ish) person within Druidry is that we could be doing so much more so share our beliefs and philosophies with the wider world. Jonathan hinged a lot of his talk on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blogpost about the loss of the Body-Mind-Soul section of the typical bookshop and how people finding books within this area was often their introduction to the world of Druidry.

This sort of thing really doesn’t exist anymore, and as someone who works within higher education (and therefore working with young students) I can guarantee you that the first place that most people will look at these days is Google. Younger generations expect their information to be instant and the more secretive aspect of OBOD does not conform to that. Now I won’t get into a debate about what I feel about this secrecy element because this isn’t really the place for that at the moment, BUT it really doesn’t help encourage inclusion and transparency for those seeking out knowledge.

Having to pay for content and commit to a course of study is not something people will want to do, especially if they are exploring something that they’re not sure is right for them. They will want to find free podcasts (which Druidcast is great at but isn’t exactly entry level), YouTube tutorials, short videos, fun Tumblrs and other exciting and rich resources that can be accessed on any platform, at any time, without any barriers such as ability, knowledge or money.

I teach regularly on using social media to communicate a brand, or an idea, or even a subject area such as science, and the joy of it is that you can reach so many people will relatively little effort or investment of money. So many tools are free and can be used to considerable effect.

One point that Jonathan made is that Druidry should not evangelise. I agree completely. Having experienced evangelism techniques from other faiths, I know how damaging and quite frankly irritating this approach can be and it simply isn’t helpful. However, using effective outreach to educate and inform others about what Druidry is about can not only allow people to explore the path more from an informed position, but it also allows those who don’t think it is quite for them to also make that decision from an informed standpoint.

Also, this outreach could do wonders for our image. As a woman within Druidry, it does get my goat no end that the “Stock Druid Spokesperson” for any news outlet is King Arthur. While I’m sure he is a great chap and he has done a lot for Stonehenge, he is just one part of Druidry. He also really doesn’t help dispel the “Old White Guy with a Beard” image, or sometimes even the image that we’re all a bit loopy and New Age-y. While there is nothing wrong with that, it doesn’t really help us when we need to be taken seriously in other sectors of society.

Jonathan made the excellent point that Wicca has a great image and is doing well. Arguably, Wicca can be seen as a very young female belief system which I’m sure isn’t always that great if you are a male Wiccan, a member of the LGBT+ community or anyone else who doesn’t “fit” the stereotype (we’ve all heard stories of people having bad experiences with Wicca in this regard…), but Wicca has been great at outreach. While the representation of it through TV (Buffy, Charmed etc.) isn’t always accurate, it is often very positive. Witchcraft on the other hand has a very different struggle but that is for another time.

So what is the point I’m trying to make with this rather long and waffling post? Druidry has an image problem. It does. It has taken me AGES to find anything useful online and more often than not I have had to resort to buying books. We’re in the 21st century now and freedom to information (especially through online resources) is almost expected as a human right especially when considering the cultural expectations of younger generations. Confining our knowledge to books and secret courses is not the way forward. We need to put more information out there, show off our diverse members and beliefs, encourage those who believe or don’t believe to be involved, and be more visible in society.

Jonathan made an excellent example of demonstrating how the sacred circle at public events can often be excluding others who are not within the circle. This was never a thing that had occurred to me before but he is quite right. Rather than having our ritual circle, let’s open out to others. They don’t have to be Druids, or even pagans.

They don’t have to “get” what we’re about, they can just learn from us. We should be good examples and representatives of our beliefs and tap into gatherings such as at Stonehenge. We should reach out at interfaith gatherings and be a part of society, just like all the other major belief systems. I’m happy to work on this with others but I wouldn’t know where to start…but let’s figure it out together perhaps?

My Druidry and science

9662665997__hSo I’m a bit of a science nerd. I love it. I think learning about the world around us through studying it using different methods and building on humanity’s understanding of our immediate environment and beyond is a valuable endeavour and one to be encouraged.

I’ve been keeping away from formal Druid training courses as of late because I have tried out a few and have found myself bogged down with the philosophies and interpretations of the writers of the content, and so feel that exploring my own path is a better way of doing things at the moment.

Seeing as worshipping deities is not really my “thing” and I don’t really believe in sentient beings that have an influence over our lives, I’ve found the more practical element of some of modern Druidry to be rather complicated given that so much of it is focused on interacting with your deity(ies) of choice.

As my interest in Druidry has come from my love of the land and environment, I thought I would take a slightly different approach to learning about the world around me so I’m taking a science degree through the Open University. I’ve just started but so far I am really enjoying it. Learning about the world that I hold dear is really good fun and I’m finding that it is really enriching my Druid development. I am especially focusing my studies on Environmental Science as I believe it is not only the most relevant science to my own interests, but it is also a topic that I feel all Druids should make sure they’re informed about.

Today I created two rain gauges as part of an activity that I’m supposed to be doing over the next two weeks. At a set time each day, I will go out into my garden to measure whatever precipitation (rain, dew etc.) has collected in the gauge and record the result. Not only is this is a really interesting study, it also means that I will be going outside on a regular basis, understanding a specific element of my local environment over a long period of time and then turning that understanding into something measurable.

A lot of Druidry development guidance encourages increasing our nature awareness in our daily lives, and by doing science just outside of my backdoor, I get to do this in a structured way which is rather nice. I’ve also considered the placement of my gauges so that they not only collect precipitation effectively but also don’t have an impact on any of the smaller animals that come into my garden like hedgehogs and mice.

I find it incredibly frustrating when I hear of politicians who have so much power to make a positive change to our planet denying the existence of things such as climate change, because they are not making these choices from an informed standpoint. As Druids, we owe it to the world that supports us and that we hold sacred to be advocates for the beauty and nature spirits that inhabit it. Whether you see that sacredness as gods, deities, or simply the energies of life, it should matter to all and should be defended wherever possible.

So I suppose my overall point of this post is that science is fun and you can use it to really build on your development of your understanding of the world around you. Also, if you are interested in the environment and protecting it (which I should hope you are if you are remotely into Druidry), being informed so you can fight against fracking, bad decisions by our politicians, and also minimising your own impact on the world, reading about science and getting the facts is so important. If anything, I think it is our duty as a species.