The 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?