I was thinking, at Druid Camp, that my initial impression of druids was not favourable.
I grew up a half hour bus journey from Avebury. When I was 18 I spent each of the 8 neo-pagan Festivals camping in Avebury. During the summer months I saw a particular group of Druids performing open, public rituals there. So far so good. Except that the leader would start with “Let’s do this quick so we can get to the pub!” and end it with “To the Pub!” with a fair amount of alcohol already having been imbibed.
I was not impressed that the ritual seemed to be done as an obligation, rather than as a devotional act, or an offering, or a joyful service, or a celebration, or whatever. It felt like a public show of “Look at us! Aren’t we great! Honouring the Old Ways ™!” getting in the way of drinking, rather than something that was important to the druids officiating.
It didn’t help that at this point I was teetotal.
Now, I’m certain it was important to them. I’m certain this was a bit of a joke, and I’m all for irreverent reverence. But when you are performing public ritual in a very public place then, surely, you have to expect that you are giving some people their first impression of pagans in general and druids in particular? Surely you need to take this into account?
For me, this was my first encounter with druids, and I was not impressed.
At one festival there was a second ritual, run by Bobcat and others (I only remembered Bobcat’s name because, well, bobcats!) which I really loved, but it was too late. I actually thought it was part of the same group. I’d dutifully attended all the rituals I came across whilst there in order to learn as much as I could. And because I’d assumed these were the same kind of practitioners – i.e. they’re all druids, right? So they’re all part of the same thing, right? – I didn’t really want to be involved in a group that had the opening and closing of a ritual revolving around getting wasted.
This is not to say I didn’t have good experiences with druids there. I had some lovely conversations. I also had some amusing ones where very high (as in stoned) druids attempted to educate me (conflating youth with inexperience – by then I’d been practising (neo)Witchcraft and magic for 7 years!).
Their case was also not helped, in my eyes, by the fact that I only saw them doing their public rituals in the summer. Now I suspect they performed their winter rituals somewhere sensible, or on a different day so I can’t really hold that against them!
The other issue were the moots. I got so frustrated at the few I attended with the lack of discussion about the things we shared in common – i.e. an interest in magic/paganism/druidry/stories/etc – and, when I asked someone if we were going to talk about anything, well, magical, their response was “Why would we talk about that? This is a moot!” And off they went to get drunk.
Anyway. The point of all this reminiscing is this: when we are out and about in a visible role as pagan, druid, witch, magic-worked or whatever, we are representatives, rightly or wrongly, of the group we present ourselves as belonging to. I was desperate for local pagans to connect with at that point in my life and could only find people who either patronised me or put me off!
For years I understood druids to be drunken show-offs who only paid lip-service to magic and the gods. Eventually I met some who clearly weren’t like that and slowly came to understand that that kind of group was a minority, though a VERY public minority.
This has me thinking about responsibility of visibility.
So should we make ourselves visible if we believe we are able to counteract some of the negative stereotypes and representations of our groups? Do we have a responsibility to provide an alternative to those who we feel are being unethical in their presentation? How? And, really, to what end?
I haven’t got answers, just ponderings. And a growing desire to offer workshops in ritual skills and ritual etiquette! But that might just be showing my Reclaiming Witchcraft roots…
Anyway. It isn’t really a problem with druids at all. It can be found in any group. The racist Heathens of the AFA are likely to drive good people away from Heathenry as a whole. Bitchy Witches can put people right off attending a moot or a gathering a second time. And I know of plenty of people who won’t come to Pagan Soc meetings because the society is made up of newbie pagans who haven’t found their feet yet, and they find it tiring/etc. So the questions are the same; What can we do about it? What should we do about it? Or is it just one of those things? And who am I to judge them for how they want to present themselves and their path?
Thankfully my impression of druids as a whole has changed… and I still love Avebury!