In 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?