Cat Treadwell — professional Druid and nature-mystic - gives us a perspective from the English countryside.
Pagan & Proud
There's a lot of changes going on in the Pagan community in the UK lately. Boundaries are being pushed, people actively questioning where they fit into their own community and the wider world. By and large, this is A Good Thing.
However, I've been involved in a few conversations with other (relatively) 'old hands' - which I think means those who've been around the Pagan block long enough to get over the initial enthusiasm, become cynical, and then rediscover their practice as an actual way of life. And the same frustrations are being raised, time and again.
(Handfasting performed by the author, Stonehenge, May 2011. Photo copyright PeacockPix)
Issues include the increase in spirituality as a commodity to be purchased, titles to be acquired online rather than earned. Absolutism - my way's right, you're doing it wrong. Hypocrisy - talking a good talk, but without much going on beyond the words. And that old favourite: Bitchcraft (otherwise known as 'bitching about other Pagans because you don't like something they're doing.' Or 'because someone did something cool and you weren't involved'). Admittedly, usually worst when Pagans gather and alcohol is added, but that's just socialising... right?
Paganism is growing up. Numbers are being counted (as announced by the recent UK Census), voices are being heard in the wider media, not just tabloids, and representation is being sought within higher levels of social and political bodies. Validity is the goal, I think - we're not just 'fringe' lunatics anymore, with our crazy hippy ways. We're becoming legitimate, to be respected and listened to. Even in our 'free' Western societies, this is a major achievement.
Which makes those frustrations all the more... well, frustrating. Because who's going to listen to a group who can't represent themselves well, let alone the wider Pagan community? Arthur Pendragon speaks words that are worth hearing and lives his beliefs clearly in his everyday life, but generally gets stereotyped as just 'eccentric' or an 'eco-protestor'. UK Druids get cross because they feel that he doesn't represent them, but then most Pagan groups argue over the need for a 'figurehead' or 'leader' versus the innate individualism of their spirituality... it's a tricky situation.
The Druid Network fought for many years to gain charitable status, working hard to essentially be recognised by redefining the meaning of 'religion' to the UK Charities Commission. The word (and its associations) 'Religion' is very subjective in legal terms, but TDN pushed that to make it applicable. After all, legalities should be relevant as needed, as tools, not closing doors but opening them by maintaining boundary guidelines rather than restrictions. We all hear stories of those laws that have never been removed from the statute books but which are ludicrous in the world today... until somebody calls on them (perhaps inappropriately).
I've spoken before of the media storm that arose when this news broke. Most notably, one right-wing UK newspaper printed a (profoundly ignorant, ill-informed and deliberately rabble-rousing) editorial that made a joke of the whole affair. The response was perhaps unexpected, to say the least - as online comments exploded on their website, and a petition was delivered to their offices in London, demanding an apology. Pagans should be protected from religious hatred and defamation as much as anybody.
But since that hubbub began to die down, those actually within the Pagan community have started to grumble. Sour grapes, perhaps, but ill-feeling nonetheless - that TDN had somehow got too big for its boots, asserting authority that it didn't actually have, and other such mutterings. Most of this is entirely groundless, and as ill-informed as the aforementioned article - but rumour persists. This isn't the first case (I'm sure Gerald Gardner had the same!), and it won't be the last.
My frustration comes about from the sheer bloody pointlessness of it all. Never has a Pagan Community been more needed. We're big enough to admit we've still got a long way to go. We're never going to be an overarching 'Church' - there's too many differences for that (groups and individual paths). But there's common ground as well, and that's the key, as I see it. We each do our own thing, in our own way, but with common unity, purpose, respect and understanding.
I'm fully aware how much of a challenge this is.
While we're fractured and bickering amongst ourselves, we're a joke, to be mocked by those outside. Those who stand up publicly (myself included) are very aware that we're exposing ourselves to the slings and arrows of anyone who wants to take a pot-shot - but we've got to be prepared. If we stand up as Pagans (of whichever path) we have to speak with honesty, integrity and honour. We have to represent ourselves as individuals, of course, but with awareness of the wider community as well.
Because, as the varied and colourful serpent of practitioners at Pagan Pride calls out to the 'Muggle' world as it stops traffic with its march through Nottingham City, 'We are Pagan - We are Proud'. This isn't just a slogan. We claim that label/title for a reason. At that same event, I heard so many people exclaim with joy 'I was scared to come along, but now I'm just so glad to see so many others here too'. We never could have accomplished such a thing even 10 years ago.
(Esme Knight, organiser of Pagan Pride - Nottingham, 2012)
We can support each other. Inspire and help, rather than bitch and degrade; leave that to the right-wing press. It's not all fluffy nonsense - it's about being simply human beings, searching for our own small path amidst the massive noise of the 21st century.
We're going to have differences. We're not all going to agree, all the time. But we can recognise those varied colours making up a much broader picture, seeing where we join and where we differ.
Moving forward, together.
(Photo copyright PeacockPix)
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