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…

 

-Nicola

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Sustainability

Sustainability and green living is a very big part of my daily practice as a Druid. To me, it is so important to be living in a way that works with Mother Earth and help protect her for future generations. I do this is through making conscious choices about how I discard of our waste and how and what we buy. This isn’t always easy and I am constantly seeking to expand on my knowledge and question the way I am consuming.

I am planing a couple of posts that will detail ways that I have found to live sustainably or sharing resources that I have discovered  or highlighting companies that make things that help. Sometimes these companies are small and don’t have the advertising power that similar products have as their products last longer and they aren’t drawing in repeat users as often. These companies need our support to keep going.

I know that many of you already try to live in a green way as well. If you want to share any of the ways you do things please feel free to flick us an email or leave a comment to make sure that it gets covered in these posts. I look forward to seeing our discussions around this!

Mary

Seasons out of time: the traveling Druid

Ogham Stone, Kilmalkedar Church, Ireland

Ogham Stone, Kilmalkedar Church, Ireland

Oftentimes travel is a time to enjoy new experiences, and to immerse yourself in the newness of another place to explore. But when you travel regularly for work, or to see family members, travel can mean being out of your routine and out of sync with how you live your life at home. Travel can become a chore, and when this happens you may find being in another place leaves you feeling out of place and disconnected from your spiritual self. I’m a Druid no matter where I am, but sometimes than connection is a bit hard when you’re tired from travel, possibly facing jet lag, you’re in the wrong season, or you’re in an unfamiliar city. Below are some things I use to connect with my druidry while on the road, to bridge the gap between ‘home’ and ‘here’.

Carrying on habits and creating a familiar space

A lot of my practice while traveling is focused on creating a little spot of calm or focus, or a means to carry on habits I have in my home life. For those of you who have little daily rituals, you may want to think about how you could bring these in to your travel life.  If you don’t have a daily ritual, but you find yourself disconnected when you travel, maybe introducing this to your practice will help you to adjust to traveling.

For example, you could say a small blessing for the day when you make you morning coffee or tea? For me, when I started traveling more often I created a habit of stopping before I leave the house and doing the “three breaths” we’re taught in OBOD’s bardic grade, and as part of ritual. I didn’t want anything too long, or I’d skip it if I was running late. I also wanted something I could do anywhere. I hit on this as a nice way to settle before heading out the door.

Another habit that may help when traveling is to find a way to make a space “yours” when you’re in other people’s houses or in hotels. This can bring a sense of familiarity if you’re on the road, in a different place each day. This could be a small photo frame or piece of fabric you use to create a mini altar for the space. Or you could bring some slippers or a robe that you use at home. Perhaps the blend of tea or coffee you have in the mornings. You could also think about using scents to bring a sense of familiarity to the space: a few drops of essential oil in your hotel room, or a travel candle that you light to bless the room.

Embracing the spirit of place

In Druidry we embrace the spirits of place. I think this is one of the most exciting parts of travel, and it often features in travel guides: experiencing meditation in East Asia, visiting mosques in the Middle East, and visiting the landmarks that are both spiritual sites and geological landmarks like Ayers Rock in Australia or Stonehenge in the UK. But the spirits of place can also be found in the everyday. I try to walk around in the places I visit. It’s good exercise, and you get to see so much more, like the architecture of the homes, the plants in the gardens, the birdsong, and the street stalls. And sometimes you spot funny little differences that help you learn about living in a different environment: Why are there colourful shrines on every corner in Thailand? Why does everyone have bedding hanging over the balcony in Japan? What can this tell me about living here? Or even if we look locally, you can see a different between the way the hills of the Kapiti Coast and upper South Island look compared to those of the central North Island or Taranaki. You can tell the summer comes later the further south you go, because the pohutukawa begin to flower at slightly
different times.

So while on the one hand, I try to retain some of the practices and create the space I have at home, I also try to embrace the difference and get a feel for the place. Sometimes I find things I like so much, the became part of my practice or space at home.

Tech support

I like to travel light. As in, so light you would think I was away for a weekend, not a week. I like to be able to move around airports and bus stations without rushing. But I also want some home comforts. Technology can be a life-saver if you want to have books and audio at your fingertips, but don’t want to carry paperbacks, meditation cds, your gwersu, your cards, notebooks, or whatever else you use in your practice. For me, a lot of my druidic travel habits are supported by my gadgets: a laptop, kindle, and a phone.

The laptop is for work and travel planning, and so I can keep in touch with my community back home. I try not to spend all my time on social media, as I find that it either makes travel feel like a competition of “how amazing is my life right now?”, or can be frustrating when you see how much you’re missing out on back home. But an email or two sharing photos and impressions, or blogging, can be great for sharing your experiences.

The e-reader is for fiction books and brain food: I have hundreds of books on here, covering anything that I may feel like reading. Light fiction for when I’ve had a hard day, books about spirituality to ponder on the train, murder mysteries to take my mind off queuing… I can always find something to pass a few minutes waiting for the bus, or an hour in the immigration queue. If you’re a reader, you can imagine how much easier it is to find calm when faced with delays if you have a book in your hand!

The phone is a general music player/navigator/email checker/app guru. It does many things, but two things I really rely on it for are for music and apps. Much like books, I carry a variety of audio on my phone. When all the change of being in a new place gets to be too much, I find playing the same music I play at home can be grounding. When I want to mediate, I can use the CDs I have of guided meditation. When I want to listen to my gwersu, they’re there in audio format. I also have podcasts of DruidCast, or other shows, to listen to on long journeys so I can stare out the window while “reading”. And my mobile apps cover a lot of things I may want to carry, but don’t have room for. For example, I have the app versions of the Druidcraft Tarot deck and Druid Animal and Plant Oracles. This saves me carrying around a deck thinking that I may want to use it (and sometimes, never taking it out of the bag). I have even used the Plant Oracle to identify trees while in Britain when we didn’t have a plant book with us! I also have a fantastic app called Buddhify, which has a large amount of short mindfulness exercises based around activities like traveling or walking. It’s been fantastic for finding a little spot of calm in the five minutes it takes to walk to the shops, or the ten minutes before the family arrives for the holidays. If you include exercise as part of your daily routine, you can even get apps for yoga, pilates, or strength training. Apps are a great way to take resources with you for when you want to try something new, but you don’t want to end up with a stack of cards or books that you never took out of the bag.

I’m sure some of you will spot that the e-reader and laptop could easily be replaced by a tablet, or all three things can be done with a phone, but I do like having my books separate from my emails, or I get distracted while reading!

Some of the things I’ve mentioned, like mobile apps, podcasts, and audio CDs for guided mediation will be featured in depth on this blog in later posts.

How do you stay in touch with your druidry when you travel? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks, or ways to find peace in transit.

– Nicola