Not dead, just resting: two blog posts on the ‘death’ of contemporary (British) paganism

A few years ago, I stood in the Glastonbury Hall at the start of the annual OBOD summer gathering. It was a particularly special gathering: OBOD was celebrating its 50th Anniversary, and it was – quite simply – a magical weekend. Picture hundreds of Druids descending on the town, a line of white robes that could be seen from town leading up to Glastonbury Tor, and the sound of 400 voices resonating with the old stone buildings as we chanted cascading awens (or watch it here!).

One of the more memorable parts of this weekend was the opportunity to see what Druidry looks like outside of New Zealand. Our grove has many women (some would say an abundance!). We have a regular meeting place, and land that we tend together. We have people from a variety of occupations. We have a history that is longer than most groves in OBOD. And we have what I soon learned was a lot of ‘young druids’!

At the gathering, Jonathan Wooley ran a workshop for ‘young druids’, defined as anyone under the age of 35, to meet and discuss our experiences of druidry. There were many questions we tossed around: was druidry your first connection with spirit? if so, how is this different to the many people who come to druidry or OBOD as a second, third, or even fourth ‘phase’ in their spiritual lives? Why aren’t there more young people in OBOD? Later, in a larger group, he ran an experiment: getting everybody to stand up, then asking anybody over 35 to sit down. Of a room full of 150 people, only about 9 were left standing!

Now, this isn’t to say that the younger generations are better than an older generations. But it speaks to diversity, and to the spread of our values from generation to generation. This was a way of looking at OBOD that I hadn’t considered before, and was part of a theme I experienced throughout the weekend of the rise and fall of spiritual groups and what the future of OBOD might be.

Anniversaries provide a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how we got to where we’re standing.  Later that weekend I heard Ronald Hutton and Philip Carr-Gomm talk about their involvement in OBOD, the inherent links paganism has to protest movements, and the natural cycles of movements where branches split off and develop new traditions (you can hear this talk on Druidcast 90). But three years later, I find this theme continues to stay with me. And this week, two provocatively-titled blog posts sprung up on my feed that follow these thoughts: what is the future of OBOD, and druidry, if young people aren’t joining?

British Paganism is Dying. Why? by Jonathan Wooley, on the Gods and Radicals website.

This post looks at what Jonathan calls the ‘slow crisis’ in the pagan movement in Britain, drawing attention to a set of problems that, if unaddressed, he suggests will necessarily lead to the movement dying away. What I like about this post is it doesn’t just say “it’s dying, what’s next”. As an anthropologist, Jonathan looks into what the different social and economic drivers that may have influenced where paganism is now, and what that means for the future. He also grounds his thinking in his experiences in the UK, noting that the experience of pagan communities in countries outside of the UK can be quite different.

Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die by John Halstead at The Allergic Pagan.

Picking up on the concepts in the previous post, John’s post looks at two main concepts: is contemporary paganism dying, or is it simply changing? and is self-absorption to blame? It looks at the cultural and social aspects of paganism rather than the purely spiritual benefits, and what it offers to the world. I really like that the post doesn’t shy away from some of the harder questions: Why do we think we deserve more members? and Do we want more Pagans or do we want Pagan ideas to be a broader part of social discourse and be accepted by non-Pagans as well?

I find it exciting to see such great writing coming out about paganism and where we are going from here. Ironically, these posts make me think there is so much growth and potential in the future of druidry! Plenty of food for thought to take with us into the next cycle of death and rebirth…







Hail To Autumn

At our Autumn Equinox ceremony in March we honour the power and radiance of Autumn and acknowledge the approaching Winter. This year Pamela spoke for Autumn and, at the appointed time in the Working, cast off her cloak to reveal a costume of russets, red, oranges and yellows and unrolling a parchment scroll and walking the circle, spoke thus:

I am Autumn
I am the release as the end draws near
I am the last breath.

I protest my leaving!
And my breath shall not be a whisper or a cry
But a shout made exultant by the power in me.

I rebel against my fading!
In these last moments you will see and feel my brilliance
And as I rebel will you view me in fear and admiration.

I am no spectator, I am the spectacle.
You do not touch me, I touch you.
In awe will you stand back as I begin my throes.
Only the daring will approach me as I embrace the Earth
And share my brief spasms of Ecstasy
For the generosity and fullness of my Relaxation.

All of my animals, too, regret my passing
For they must face the starkness of the time that approaches
The bear eats ravenously for fat, the squirrels store
All Nature quivers as my strength leaves.

I deny my passing!
Even as I go to Earth shall I give form to the future
And my seed shall rise again in another body.

And so I allow the old to fall away
And in my last, withdrawing sigh
I feel the energy of new creation . . .
For I am Birth, Death and Genesis

Then Tom stepped into the circle, head and body completely covered by his cloak to speak for Winter thus:

I speak for Winter at Autumn Equinox

As you enjoy the warmth of the sun on this Autumn day
Know you that I am coming!

Notice how the evenings and nights are cooler,
The days getting shorter.

Soon there will be frosts and the South Wind will howl in
With rain and snow.

I speak for Winter and I am coming fast . . .


An Ode to Balance

Balance, a precious state, not to be found easily, or handed out as a gift, no, balance flows, balance is born of wise choice and actions, it is dynamic, it moves through our whole lives in many forms. The wisdom of our ancestors to be balanced with the excitement of our anticipation, the masculine and the feminine inside us all, emotion and intellect, creation and accomplishment, hearts love for ourselves and for others.

Often we are very aware of the balance we seek as we find ourselves swinging past it frequently in one direction or another, never quite managing to settle before the spot moves on with life’s flow.

At Alben Elfed, the Grove of the Summer Stars celebrated the balance of light and dark once more, committing ourselves to balance, to be blessed with it’s gifts in our own lives and with us, the lives of all around us.


An Ode to Balance

I search for balance, often with a frown
An illusive state, is it ‘verb’ or ‘noun’
‘Equilibrium’ or ‘stability’
‘Justice’, perhaps ‘impartiality’
So many meanings ‘balance’ has for me

But to know that my soul has stabilized
Is to be in a place so dearly prized
Where all my emotions and senses strive
Passions, temperance, together contrive
for that ‘Balance,’ that makes my spirit thrive

~ Les