Cat Treadwell — professional Druid and nature-mystic - gives us a perspective from the English countryside.
A cross-post this week, if I may - between here at my first blog 'home', and the wonderfully eclectic 'Witches & Pagans' site (because if you can't 'moonlight' as a Pagan, then who can?).
I am very aware that I haven't written anything at either location for a couple of weeks. I could give excuses - ultimately, the days have flown past and life has been more important. I'm sure we all know how that goes. Instead, take a wander with me, if you will.
Regular readers know that one of my favourite places for inspiration is as I walk the dog across the hilltop where I live. This evening I wandered the streets, looking out at the fierce clouds parting after an intense rain and thunder-storm just a few hours ago, the remnants of a rainbow, and the slightly 'stunned' feeling of a normal, modern, country village after a violent and unavoidable incident of Nature. The grass is rich and green, the snails appear to have made a small bypass across the path outside one particular row of houses, and the occasional early bat is swooping overhead.
Most of my day has actually been spent in bed. I've been physically suffering from 'cold turkey' after reducing and finally ceasing a course of prescribed medication - I cannot justify taking such an addictive substance blindly, and am rather pleased to have found myself feeling so much better for having kicked it away. But there's the inevitable fallout, which I'm riding as best I can.
This has also allowed a lot of time for thought. My constant question - What are you doing? - is before me. I'm coming to the end of the busiest period of my life so far as a Professional Druid and Author (I still can't quite believe I'm saying that), and yet I'm challenged every day. There's still more waves to ride, hills to climb, and (sadly) battles to fight.
Inevitably, when you stick your head above the metaphorical parapet to claim any sort of authority in an amorphous and random community such as Paganism, you're going to have things thrown at you. Words, mostly - but despite the old adage, words absolutely can hurt.
I am walking my path. Mine. I can do no more - none of us can. But some of us are, it seems, called upon to challenge others in the manner of their practice. As if we don't do that to ourselves enough. Perhaps those people are perfect already? Lucky them.
What am I doing? Organising handfastings and public rituals, moots and workshops. Representing Pagans and Druids as a public 'leader' for two national organisations. Working on my second (and third) book. Pondering blog posts. And that's just off the top of my head.
I'm not asking for sympathy here, by the way - by and large, I love what I do, and am hugely grateful to be able to do it. I am outlining my current work schedule... because I've started to wonder if 'Pagan Leader' should come with a job description.
I am deeply aware from personal experience that The Pagan Federation and The Druid Network have a lot of volunteers who work incredibly hard, with their own energy, time and resources, in (to quote the TDN tagline) 'inform, inspire and facilitate' our spirituality. I'm sure most other Pagan organisations are the same. But I'm also becoming aware that the boundary lines are rapidly changing for our communities, be they Wiccan, Witch, Druid, Heathen or whatever term you prefer. And we all need to be aware of that, because we are all part of it.
The Pagan community, in whichever form you are a part of it - from a National Network to a tiny local coven - is evolving. This is, I believe, A Good Thing. Those who are now Elders have set the foundation. Youngsters, second and third-generation family Pagans, are up-and-coming with their own methods and ideas. This is a fantastic thing to witness. By the time I'm an Elder, I can't imagine where we'll be. Exciting times.
And yet, in a spirituality that depends on (and cannot avoid) challenging itself, we're still sometimes scared to move those set goalposts that we have. Traditions, whether spiritual, social or political, are just too ingrained. Surely we can't change that, whatever will happen?
We shouldn't charge for spiritual services. We can't call ourselves 'Priests' (because we're not confirmed or accredited by some training school). We have to abide by an authoritative text or written rule-set, to be recognised in law. Paganism is just a bunch of fringe nutters, left-over hippies wearing purple crushed velvet and far too many crystals; what's the point of even trying to be recognised as serious spiritual voices if that's how we represent ourselves? I have seen all of these as actual discussions on Pagan Facebook groups in the last month, just as a cross-section of examples.
Pagans, and those who feel affinity for the Pagan path, are so varied and diverse that it's almost impossible to categorise an us. This is the first hurdle when being recognised by 'officialdom' (as The Druid Network found out when it applied for Charity status). Soundbites in the media are almost immediately irrelevant - how do you sum up a subjective spirituality? We're given titles, roles, pinned down, confined to how we 'should' behave.
(I'm still intrigued to see what my car insurance company will say when renewal time comes around and they ask my job. Priest or Author? Or just 'Druid?' :) )
To me, this pigeonholing is the antithesis of Paganism, with its wonderful diversity and anarchy. But then, we ourselves don't seem to know what else to do. Those same Pagan organisations, which have been set up by and for practitioners themselves (volunteers all) to benefit their fellows in the wider community, are often sneered at, slated for being authoritative, for not representing me accurately in my path. Some become overloaded with egos, mad Crowley-wannabees on power trips. Because, as we know, in these days of instant social media, whinging is far easier than actually doing something to change a situation or solve a problem. It's easy to set yourself up as a Big Pagan Leader with robes and a fancy name. But then you realize that there's actually a job to do. You take on the role, you have to walk the path - and publicly.
The Pagan community is changing. Those who are all mouth and no substance are falling by the wayside. Those who stand up and do are being recognised. As our paths change, so our wider systems change. People are actually listening. The wider world is being affected by what we are doing. Sometimes all it takes is someone saying 'No' - or perhaps, more appropriately to open discussions, 'Why?'
This is our challenge as Pagans. We are forging our paths daily, as we walk them. Our personal spirituality is becoming public, just by answering questions about what we do, engaging in chat, wearing a pentagram publicly. Pagan Pride, which took place once again in Nottingham early this month, would have been unimaginable for those original Elders (much as it was needed). Now we stand up proudly - and smiling, enjoying, sharing as a community. It's not about the power or the titles - and certainly not about the money.
It's living our spirituality. Work/life balance? Personal as Political? Absolutely. Truth, honour, joy and integrity. Being alive, and part of something larger. It's a big planet, after all.
It's not always easy, of course. The cat in me often balks at the 'leadership' roles, preferring instead to just practice alone in my back garden, or with my partner in the woods. Sometimes that's needed. But then, what am I doing - and can I take time to share?
So my inspiration comes from my immediate surroundings, as I walk the excited border collie to do his business. I come back to housework, deadlines, demands. But I have to remember what I am doing too.
Most of us remember starting out. Finding books, websites, chat groups. Not really knowing how to talk about these strange practices we read about. What is 'Drawing Down the Moon' anyway? Do I need to use the right candles and incense? How did our ancestors cope before eBay?
I remember. That's why I want to share - not to evangelise, 'spread the good word' or recruit. Just to help, to show that there are others out there doing this. And it's not about rules, directives and absolutes - it's about finding your way. Trust yourself. There are others out there who will too.
What am I doing? I'm walking with those who ask. I'm not infallible, and my resources aren't infinite (nor is my patience, but that's another story). But I'm here.
What are you doing?
Addendum: I've actually set up a 'Donations' page on my website, if any would like to participate in the equal energy exchange. I've been recommended to do this by other authors, but have seen those who regularly contribute to the internet's collective creativity get by on the kindness of their lovely readers... so it's an experiment that I'm willing to try! Thank you, as always, for reading.
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