Druid Thoughts: Who Polices the Druids?

I’ve worked as a volunteer for several UK Pagan and Druid organisations over the years, which has brought me into contact with ‘witch wars’ and other forms of conflict. When things go wrong, we in the Pagan community look for someone to sort it out – which is natural. We seem to assume, especially with Druidry, that there is some kind of hierarchy that ought to be doing something. This blog is by way of a public information service broadcast, to explain how things work. Or don’t.

There is no ultimate authority within Druidry. Anyone can call themselves a Druid. Some Druids are members of Orders, Groves, or other organisations, some are not. No one has the power to remove someone else’s title, to make them be silent or to otherwise control their behaviour.

Most Orders only police internally, and that lightly. If you bring your Order into disrepute or break its rules, you can find you are no longer welcome – as would be the case in any sane and functional organisation. If someone from the outside turns up demanding that a member be reined in, or reprimanded… well, you’d need some evidence. Do this without a least a solicitor’s letter, and you’re not going to get anywhere. A court order would be more useful, or some other evidence that the situation is serious enough to merit action. Your own words won’t be enough, and if you stop to think about this for five minutes, the reasons why are pretty obvious.

There are people in the Pagan community who are attracted by the impression of power and influence. Also sometimes the scope to make money. There are people who get angry about other people doing things differently, or about others not taking them seriously enough. I’ve seen a lot of it, and it’s generally the noisy few, driven by ego and other such unhelpful, unspiritual things. No sensible organisation will touch this kind of dispute.

It is very, very hard from the outside of a situation to judge the rights and wrongs of it. We’re all righteously angry about how the Catholic Church has dealt with its pedophile priests, but let me tell you a thing. Would we do any better? We’ve not been tested that way as a community, and let’s hope we never are. Hand on hearts, would we be sure, if someone came to us with accusations, that we would do the right thing? Would we know which were the genuine cases that needed following up, and which were malicious and meant to bring down a good and innocent person? Do you want the responsibility for making that call? I don’t.

The only thing to do, when serious accusations are made, is to encourage those involved to take it to the police. No Pagan organisation is equipped to properly investigate any of this stuff – any more than the Catholics are. This is why countries have police forces in the first place.

I think Pagan organisations are often too quick to say ‘not our problem’ and to step away rather than dealing with issues. Let’s think about the UK’s Liberal party, recently accused of not taking appropriate action when a high ranking member was accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards junior members of the party. Would we do any better? What would we do with claims of sexual harassment against members of our communities? Probably not very much at all.

If what I’ve seen online is anything to go by, we don’t do well with sexual harassment accusations. We don’t investigate, usually. We don’t give the accused or the victims much support. We wash our hands of them.

Now, the more Pagans and the more organisations there are, the more scandals will happen. The bigger we get, the more responsibility we will have. Are we ready for this? Do any of our organisations have the means to respond if there’s a pedophile priest accusation in our ranks? Would we handle a sexual abuse scandal any better than the Catholics have, or the Liberal Democrats? I’m confident that we wouldn’t.

Nothing in Paganism lends itself to the kind of overarching structures of the Catholic Church, and I think most of us are very happy to have it that way. Most Pagans do not want to be policed. The desire to self determine is often a big part of what got us here. I think we, like a lot of other groups of people, are guilty of wanting to think the best of ourselves. We are the good guys! The bad guys are somewhere else. We don’t want to imagine there could be pedophiles in our community. Good Pagans would never do that. And you can bet the Catholics felt that way about their own as well. No one wanted to believe it. We don’t want to think there are rapists in our ranks, or that the guy opposite us in circle might beat his wife and kids, but they will be there. I say this with confidence because sexual abuse and physical cruelty are rife, and the more Pagans there are, the greater the statistical probability that some of us are going to be a long way short of what we might want.

There are no tidy answers here for us, any more than there are for the rest of the world. However, disbelief enables abuse, and we are going to have to take responsibility for ourselves as a community one way or another.

Druid Thoughts is published monthly on Agora. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

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About Nimue Brown

Druid blogger, author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors and Spirituality without structure (Moon Books) Intelligent Designing for Amateurs (Top Hat Books) and Hopeless Maine (Archaia). Book reviewer for the Druid Network and Pagan Dawn. Volunteer for OBOD. Green, folky, Steampunk wench with a coffee habit. www.druidlife.wordpress.com and www.hopelessmaine.com @Nimue_B and can be hunted down on facebook.