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…