Druid Charity Status

The Druid Network has charity status – not registered yet, but rubber stamped as fulfilling the requirements for registration, so pretty much there. This is very big news. It makes tdn the first recognised Druid charity in the UK and the first pagan group to be registered under the 2006 Act. It’s taken years and a lot of very wonderful people have fought very hard to make this possible – dealing with a system that had been set up to handle religions shaped more like Christianity than not.

The Druid Network having achieved charitable status will bring all kinds of benefits to the organisation, enhancing credibility and creating opportunities to promote and support Druidry. This is all good. It also means that any other pagan charity is going to have a much better chance of getting charitable status. No other Druid group is going to have to prove that Druidry is a valid religion. Other pagan groups will be able to use the tdn case to help express their own. The process that has got tdn charitable status has helped create understanding of nature based religion, modern polytheism, and things that are not remotely like Christianity. As this is a legal definition of tdn as a religious charity, it will have all kinds of wider legal implications too.

It’s an awe inspiring thing to have seen happen. I’ve been in a position to watch from the sidelines through the later part of the process. The work that has gone into making this happen, has been colossal. It’s wonderful to see paganism being taken seriously, and I think this bodes well for our future. 

I know there are a significant number of pagans who are wary about contact with officialdom. For some, part of the attraction of paganism is precisely that we aren’t tied up in state structures and officialdom. However, for pagans to have the same rights as other folks and the freedom to live and worship on our own terms, we have to engage with the system. It’s vitally important that we do that without compromising the individual choice and responsibility inherent in paganism. To define ourselves without becoming dogmatic, and engage with authority without becoming authoritarian or hierarchical is going to be a challenge. The systems we deal with are based on assumptions that are totally unlike paganism.

One of the things that charitable status for the Druid Network shows is that we can engage and be heard, without having to become something other than we are. That gives me hope.

Creepy Occult Time

Writing about the occult is one of those issues that brings my writer self and my Druid self into conflict. From a Druid perspective, I don’t believe that there is anything outside of nature, although my notion of ‘nature’ includes the scope for much that could be deemed ‘supernatural’. (Ghosts, spirits etc). As a Druid, I don’t find any of these things inherently creepy or disturbing. As with all aspects of life, some bits are better than others. I’ve been creeped out by things I couldn’t explain, but I’ve also been happily surprised and inspired.

From a writing perspective, stories about happy benevolent contact with things magical get dull really fast. The best occult tales are horror and spine chillers. Think Phil Rickman, the hugely popular Dennis Wheatley (who I haven’t read) Clive Barker and no doubt many more. The occult is inherently uncanny, beyond our knowledge and control, dangerous and hard to tackle. As a plot device it drives stories wonderfully well.

The pagan in me wants to write a positive, magical realism, with a pagan take on the world in which magic is not evil. The writer in me… won this time round.

Dead Sexy’ is dark, and the occult, where it manifests, is not friendly at all, or safe, or benevolent. It’s a story I’d been working up to for a while. There was a jewellery box, with the name ‘Octavia’ on it. She was part of my family, and went mad. That’s all I know about her. The first time I heard about her, it stuck in my head, and I’ve made up stories before, trying to imagine what might have happened to her. All speculation. The Octavia in this story is someone I created, borrowing the name and drawing on the inspiration. Otherwise, this is complete fabrication.

It’s not the first time I’ve written scary evil occult stuff, either. The writer in me apologises to the druid in me on a regular basis. At some point, there will be reconciliation and I’ll write a creepy occult story with a druid hero or heroine, and that will balance out entirely.

Druids and the Church

Druidry and Christianity have a very interesting sort of relationship. There are folks who do both, and most of the folks who only do one find this a bit perplexing. And no, I have no idea really how it works, but so long as it does work for people, then fair enough.

Churches have a very strong physical presence in a lot of communities. They are a hub point for activity, as well as the focal point of worship and religion. Contemporary druids do not, usually, have anything comparable. There aren’t enough of us, we don’t have the financial backing, and there is the whole issue of liking to do it in the trees. Groves are good for rituals, but less good for playgroups, jumble sales, coffee mornings and all the other social glue that holds church communities together.

I’ll freely admit that every now and then I get an attack of building-envy. Churches tend to have very good acoustics too, they are fabulous places to sing. Often they have interesting windows and art work to explore. In rural places, churches are often where the local history, archaeology and myth wind up. If you want to find out about a place, poking around in the church will give you a good place to start. Then there’s the graveyard – frequently a wildlife haven and full of ancestors – ancestors of place, if not bone or tradition.

If you’re getting the idea that I love churches, you’d be right. But the trouble is Christianity doesn’t speak to me and never did. I am very fond of many lovely Christian people, and I have a lot of respect for what they do, but I’m never going to be going that way.

The trouble is, being a Druid, by definition involves having a community to be a Druid for. Which is fine and dandy if there are plenty of pagans about. But what do you do if you are the only pagan in the village, or your part of town? The private, solitary aspects of Druidry you can do anywhere, but the community aspect means people.

When I was in Redditch, I had a good relationship both with the nearest vicar, and my son’s school (which was a faith school). We were entirely open about the paganism. I’ve sung in the church (because I love mediaeval music) and supported church events. It depends a lot on the nature of your vicar, but many have an attitude that the church exists for the community, first and foremost. Being openly pagan, non-confrontational and interested in giving service, I found it easy enough to find a place.

My new home, unshockingly, turns out to have a church in viable walking distance (this being the UK, I’d be hard pushed to live somewhere this wasn’t true of). It’s a significant hub of local life. I love the graveyard, and have snuck into the building when no one else is about. Empty churches can be very lovely places to meditate on a rainy day. In time, I’ll start offering all the things I’ve given in other places – music, harvest loaf making, help with practical things. All the community and craft aspects. If the community I’m in turns out to be light on pagans, and more Christians, then to serve, as a Druid, I need to find ways to serve within a Christian-defined context. It can be done.

Who am I?

Without a sense of self, it’s very hard to work out what to do with your life, or how to do it. Self knowledge is necessary for personal growth and for any kind of meaningful spiritual life. How do I hold a mirror up to my soul? How do I establish what kind of person I am? How do I discover my true nature?

This is an issue I’ve been wrangling with a lot lately. I have absolutely no idea who I am. Things I had considered true, I’m no longer sure I can trust. Reflections offered back by others, I’m now putting aside. I’ve spent this summer watching myself, trying to figure out who I am.

I don’t think what happens inside any person’s head is a measure of who we are. In our heads, many of us are the heroes of our own stories. We are right, justified, reasonable etc. The trouble is, experience demonstrates that many people are not right, much less actually heroic. So how do we get beyond the inclination to think well of ourselves and get some measure of truth and reality? Or for that matter, how do folks who have been conditioned into thinking the worst of themselves break away from that training and find a new self image?

The answer lies not in what we think, but what we do. Intentions and attitudes are of limited use, really. I seek to know myself through how I live, the choices I make. I can get some sense of what I am like from how others respond to me. (Gently, on the whole, with care, kindness and support, aside from a couple of notable exceptions). What kind of people are we surrounded by? If everyone we encounter seems hostile, selfish and uncooperative, is that misfortune, or is some aspect of who we are being reflected back at us? The best sense we can get of how we seem, is by looking at our relationships and seeing what they tell us.

We can tell a lot about ourselves and how we impact on the world by looking at who our friends are. Do we have longstanding friends? And if not, why? There are lots of reasons why a person may find it hard to make and keep friends – shyness, a nomadic lifestyle, eccentricities that make it hard to connect, or just not being a people person can all be issues. But you can also make friends with creatures, and places, and look at those relationships as points of reference. One or two deep friendships will tell you as much about yourself as dozens of casual connections can. Family, neighbours, people we meet through work and daily life all reflect back something of how we come across to them. Do people avoid us, or seek us out? Are you someone to confide in? Am I a good shoulder to cry on?

Creatures and children are very good points of reference. You can’t bullshit a creature. They judge you based on how you treat them. If you are kind and gentle, animals will respond to you in certain friendly ways, or avoid you, if you are not. Being a parent is perhaps the biggest mirror you can hold up to yourself. The person you raise will reflect back all kinds of things about who you are – especially the nature of their primary care giver. Sure, kids can come out well in spite of bad parenting, or come out badly despite best efforts to nurture them, but they’re a very interesting yardstick to measure ourselves by.

In stillness, isolation and inactivity, who we are is entirely theoretical. Action is real, and relationship one of the best ways of seeing how that action manifests. Who we imagine we could be and what we think we might do if only we had the chance, isn’t worth much in the scheme of things. Judge yourself on what you do, not on wishful thinking, or self critical fear.