(With thanks to Berriscient, whose comment today prompted this post.)
Usually I’m very careful to caveat what I write with ‘most pagans’ or ‘a lot of Druids’ because experience to date suggests that there are always exceptions to everything. And I like caveating. It’s actually rare I’ll say ‘this is so’ without some kind of ‘in my opinion’ or ‘but only when the wind blows from the north east’ kind of tag on it.
No one can speak for all pagans, we’re such a disparate lot, no one could begin to imagine how we all feel and think (oh damn, am I speaking for all of us in saying that? Am I poised to fall into some kind of logical vortex?)
But then there are pagan folk who, by accident or design end up with some kind of public profile. If there’s a pagan news story in the UK, you can bet someone will call up Ronald Hutton and Emma Restall Orr to get their take on it, at the very least. We didn’t vote them in to speak for us, but their writing, their work, and their being good with the media means they get more of a voice than Joe-regular-pagan. Other folks find on a more local level that they become popular with local media. I’ve seen it happen to friends. I had Radio Hereford and Worcester phoning me up to comment on Stonehenge news articles… the world is a strange place.
There’s also the issue of folks who are present and active on boards, interfaith groups, public bodies, blogs… any of whom can and will be taken by those who encounter them as the face of paganism. Whether they want the job or not. If you are the only Druid in the village, then the village will judge Druids based on what they see of you.
Where possible, I try to make it as clear as I can that I’m speaking for myself. Sometimes I’ll talk from experience of what others have said and done. Just every now and then, I’ll go out on a limb and say things along the lines of ‘if paganism isn’t like this already, then it bloody well should be.’ I’ve been in positions where my words might be seen as representing pagan organisations (The PF and The Druid Network). Currently I don’t belong to anyone else, there’s no outfit I’ll bring into immediate disrepute if I say something too wild… but I think about every statement, every word, not just as expressions of my own opinion, but as things that might have wider impact. After all, I’ve no way of knowing who might read this or where it might go. I’ll go out on a limb and say in my experience, most pagans do not seem to be as self conscious as I am about what they say and do. Not if what I’ve seen on boards and social networking sites is anything to go by.
Who has the right to speak on behalf of the pagan community? We all do. We also have responsibilities if we do so. Everything we do, and say, can and might be taken by others as evidence of what paganism is like. In every aspect of our lives, we are potential ambassadors, or saboteurs. We all speak for paganism, every day. Whether or not the media eye is upon us, we either walk our talk for the people around us to see, or we don’t. We either speak with wisdom and honour, or we don’t. Pagans are never going to agree on everything or speak with one clear voice (how scary would that be, if we did…?) because we are people, and people are a diverse lot and should not be boxed up too much. But that doesn’t mean we should be silent, either, or afraid to disagree with each other in public.