" Live out of your imagination
not your history "
In ‘Tea with Philip’ this Monday I strayed and drank some mead.
And to your health, too, Philip. May support and sustenance be abundantly available to you, in whatever form you require, at this time and always.
This topic reminds me of the general “pagan problem” as well as the punk music scene. In paganism there is no centralized authority and literally anyone can name themselves a priest or priestess, wizard, or whatever they want. This can be very liberating and personally empowering, but depending on your personality type, whether you are a liberal or conservative, it can also be anxiety-raising. Liberal-minded folk are comfortable with uncertainty, change, and “gray” zones whereas conservatives tend to prefer certainty and permanence. Pagans seem to revel in chaos and anarchy, but we also love our ancestral traditions, so this sets us up for conflict from the get-go. Paganisms de-centralization can be liberating to some, but nail-biting to others. To those who embrace its openness it can be very powerful to stand up and say “I will believe and do whatever I want, to hell with everyone else, to hell with history” but this can be very infuriating to those who revere history. It also allows people who have no idea what they are doing to simply adorn themselves a “High Priestess” or “Arch-Druid” out of a self-serving interest to gather a group around them and feed their need for power. Every pagan is a priest it is said, but when we see someone need to play one-up-manship and assume a “higher” title then the rest of us we can get a bit defensive. The eclectics within paganism also run the risk of watering down whatever cultural cohesively there might be, as hard-earned historical lore and tradition gets overlaid or even replaced by imported ideas or completely self-created imaginations (ex: Iolo Morganwwg’s forgeries, Robert Graves invented tree calendar, Douglas Monroe’s misogynistic and racist pronouncements, to Frank MacEowen’s insensitive misappropriation of Native American lore mashed in with Celtic sources). In my opinion these folks always eventually reveal themselves as fabricators, hopefully before they do too much harm to others.
Similarly, in the punk scene we saw the eruption of chaos and anarchy against the oppression of western society to set it all on fire and create something “beautifully ugly” … a brilliant raging energy where anyone could become a rock star overnight whether or not they had a shred of talent. Passion was more important than whether you could sing or play a guitar. Punks purposefully tore down the walls of convention and respectability. How crazy you looked was an asset. But here too eventually the real talent was separated from the looney fame-seekers as the movement was tested over time and honed into a real art form. Like a dumpster fire that eventually becomes an alchemical forge creating gold from garbage.
Paganism’s strength and weakness is its decentralization and freedom from convention, its ability to constantly recreate itself, and its participatory nature where everyone is welcomed. It stands against the tug of centralizing power structures in a way that resists the development of hierarchical structures that can become dehumanizing and controlling (i.e. authoritarianism and fundamentalism) over time. But it also leaves our community vulnerable to fighting amongst ourselves, any cohesion collapsing in on itself, being co-opted by charismatic charlatans, and too disorganized to participate in movements for change on a large scale. The mirror of this can be seen in how the Romans defeated the Druids 2,000 years ago. The Celtic peoples were hyper-individualistic and incapable of making a unified resistance, and as a result they were swept aside by a more organized society. But the Celts were free, even if it was only for a while.
Can anyone call themselves a Druid? Yes. Even if they have no idea what that means? Damright. Is this good or bad for the preservation of Celtic tradition? Don’t know don’t care. Paganism will always have a tinge of anarchism, both respecting and trampling over the stories of our ancestors with glee, burning it all down in sacrifice to something new. The Celts were always good at burning stuff. Druids are quiet Hobbits …. Druids are also resistance fighters and nasty punk rockers. Get used to it or go f___ yourself (as Sid Vicious might say).
-A. Howell (aka Ysgawen, Druid, USA)
Followed a wonderful trail of breadcrumbs to find this/your blog post resonate with my sense of these matters.. Especially liked the parallel you’ve drawn between neo-paganism and the punk ‘movement’.. as my girlfriend is squarely ensconced in both camps.. So kewl to make thus cerebro-connection with you.. thanks, Phil!!
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