Druid Thoughts: Terribly Important Pagans

Illustration tirée de Histoire de France, cours élémentaire, Ernest Lavisse, Armand Colin, 1913, page 3 de l'éditon Heath de 1919In Paganism, we are all to be our own priests and priestesses. That would seem to imply equality of power and status, and that no Pagan is inherently better than another. We may know more about some things, but none of us are experts on everything. Starting with the idea of all being responsible for ourselves and looking to no one else to mediate with deity on our behalf, we could have a truly egalitarian community. We don’t. We have ArchDruids, high priestesses, and other folk who set out to be Terribly Important Pagans.

I think there are questions to ask here. One is about the person who sets themselves up as Terribly Important. These are often not the folk who work hard and get things done, teaching, founding groups, writing, being activists. That’s good and worthwhile, and if we are to have communities, we need people holding those spaces. However, many of the most influential people that I know in the UK are also rather quiet and unassuming folk. Mark Graham, who heads up Druid camp; Philip Carr Gomm, of OBOD; Mike Stygal who is President of the Pagan Federation but uses the title so rarely that you can easily miss that. Phil Ryder as Chair of the Druid Network… and no doubt many other folk who are busy such that I do not know their names.

Then there are the others, the ArchDruids, self-appointed leaders, High this and Senior the other, of things that are so small and quiet you probably haven’t heard of them. They show up in forums, bearing their titles like bludgeoning weapons. Occasionally one of these manages to float to the top of something by dint of self-importance alone to spend a little while being visibly useless before sliding way again. I won’t name names, but I’ve seen it a few times. I have respect for people who can see ways of getting stuff done and aren’t afraid to pile in. I am troubled by the folk who are so hungry for importance and status that they have to big themselves up in this way.

However, there would be no gain in claiming a title if we didn’t, as a wider community, give some rewards for that. This is not solely a Pagan issue, and may have much to do with the wider world, where titles connect to real power, real status, and often real wealth. To be an Archbishop is to have a job, a voice, and respect from your community much of the time. To be an ArchDruid… less so.

Why as Pagans are we so keen to mimic the political structures and power bases of other religions? Why are we so excited by titles, and so keen to pin them to ourselves? Would we really want the responsibilities of money, the weight of history, and the uncomfortable politics that go with Archbishop status? Do we want that in our spiritual lives? Or do we want to be Pagans in the original, Roman sense of the word; people of the land, living close to nature and away from all the glitz and power of urban Rome?

Just because other religions do something doesn’t make it a good idea. Media attention, money and resources are always attractive to people, but once we succumb to that lure, we’ve started walking away from our spirituality. We may tell ourselves stories about how we’re doing it to get Paganism taken seriously, to spread the word, to establish our place in the world… but I ask, does Paganism really need that? And as individuals, do we need that for ourselves?

Druid Thoughts is published on occasional Wednesdays 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.

  • Alyxander M Folmer

    “Why as Pagans are we so keen to mimic the political structures and power bases of other religions?”
    - When you lack any real structure at all, just about any cohesive system looks inviting. Also, why reinvent the wheel? When we have hundred of religions with different types of organization and internal political structures to base our experiments off of, why would we start from scratch? You take what good you can find from their examples, and trim what doesn’t work. That’s how we progress. That’s how the scientific disciplines work. That’s how social systems work. That’s how natural ecosystems work. Makes sense to me that we should work the same way.

    “Just because other religions do something doesn’t make it a good idea.”
    - It doesn’t make it a BAD idea either. We’re not the only people in the world that can come up with clever ideas. :)

    “Media attention, money and resources are always attractive to people, but once we succumb to that lure, we’ve started walking away from our spirituality.”
    - Unless we use those resources to reinvest in the community. Being an ascetic is great, but it doesn’t give you much to build with when the storms roll in and your people need shelter.
    The world is not a nice place, and we’ve already had to weather enough storms without the benefit of a roof over our head. Greed is a powerful force in the human mind, but that doesn’t mean that everybody who wants to build something does it out of greed. Nor does it mean that those who start with noble intentions are doomed to fall to it.
    I’m more than willing to borrow a hammer and nails from our neighbors (and put in some of my own blood, sweat, and tears) if it means everybody will get to come in out of the rain. Nothing in this world is gained without sacrifice, and that’s a price I’m willing to pay if it will allow us to help people.

  • mikelobrien

    A lot of people need a hierarchy to defer/belong to. Hence, the popularity of such structures over the centuries. A “power over” sort of thing, but also a “I have someone to blame with the sh*t hits the fan” thing as well. I’ve lived on this planet for enough decades to realize that most people are too weak or two lazy not to want to take responsibility for themselves. And that does not mean that I don’t appreciate and have a sharing with neighbors and friends, just that I don’t need to be given a title to prove that I’m worthy.

  • Chris Godwin

    BNPs are chosen by the people.

  • http://leithincluan.wordpress.com/ Leithin Cluan

    It would be useful to differentiate between British druidry and American druidry here. I think many people reading this will be in America and will not know about our tradition of intensely non-hierarchical druidry here. (Anyone reading this should be careful not to read it from a culturally imperialist perspective, and to consider cultural differences.) ADF has a long tradition of trained, experienced priests, but they come from a very different context from British Druidry. Which, in my opinion, is its own tradition and one that many Americans have never encountered. Equally, though, many British druids won’t know about different ways of doing things ‘over the pond’ in international druidry, nor why ADF has priests and archdruids.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      Fair point. :)