Last weekend was Gaia Gathering, a Canadian National Pagan Conference that happens every two years. After so many years, Calgary was hosting it, despite many years of being known as a terribly fractured community. Would we be able to pull this off?
After hiccups and foibles, we did pull it off, and we “raised the bar” according to some attendees. (One advantage of being a nonprofit society is that the Calgary Pagan Pride Society was able to secure a grant from the Government of Alberta, which was a huge help!) So, hurrah to the Calgary Pagan community for coming together to make this one awesome event!
While the two workshops I hosted had absolutely no attendees, save for one person at the Ethics talk. I was competing against some fun workshops. Seriously, who wants to talk about deathcare and ethics when there are drum circles and fun workshops to attend, right? No one. Oh well, I got in some wonderful nap time instead!
I was a part of one well-attended forum: the Elders’ Forum. Despite being on my path for over 25 years, I never really considered myself an Elder because I was always on the fringe – the lone Druid wolf outside of the “pack” of Wiccan groups.
Honestly, I have always seen myself as more of a helper or facilitator. Yet, I was invited by the workshop’s presenter, and so I sat at the front of the room with 3 Wiccan Elders and was the Druid Elder. At one point, a very respected Elder (and one of our Keynote Speakers) from out East broke down in tears saying that she had “been harassed and bullied, chewed up and spit out too many times,” when asked how the community could help its Elders.
Today, one of the local Elders from the panel wrote a beautiful open letter to the Wiccan Community. She mentioned what had happened at the Elders’ Panel and added some stories of her own about being ousted by the community due to some “charges” which she is still unaware of. No one in the community seems to be willing to tell people what their beef is with them to their face without some sort of “trial” process, which is demeaning and completely unnecessary, IMO.
In my way, I wrote a lengthy reply in support, and then realized that I had totally hijacked the letter, so I deleted the reply, put in a short reply of support and decided to just put the response here instead. It is something that must be said, though.
I too recall being “charged” with offences that required in person meetings back in 2002, and once via a flurry of emails to everyone else but me about something I apparently did, but did not do (2001). I ended up confronting them at a bar of all places to get to the bottom of it! (I then got a written apology.) This is among many of the stupid things that happen in a lot of Pagan communities, not just ours. (In a way that’s comforting, but it’s also disturbing.) I did eff up in the past, I still eff up, and I always will eff up, because I’m a fallible human. I do my best to own up to it, apologize, and make up for it whenever I can.
A big question was about why Pagan Elders get burnt out and just disappear from the community. Are they just burnt out from too much work, or is the abuse they tend to get from people holding them to a higher standard? (I’m guilty of holding people to a higher standard when I was younger. Now, I just hold myself to that standard – and often fail.)
I was a solitary practitioner from 1991 – 2000, being taught by “Elders” around the world and in my own province. I experienced a life threatening illness in 1999 that just about did me in, and I thought that it just might be time to connect with community, but other Druids were hard to find at the time. Therefore, I spent a lot of time with the Wiccan community.
During that time, I met a lot of people, and discovered a lot of fundamental differences between modern Druidry and Wicca, and how certain things are viewed/dealt with. Those differences led to a lot of chafing in some areas. I was a fish out of water in that respect. I had been involved with Druid groups around the world since I got access to the internet in 1997, and I found the Wiccan community in Calgary to be close to what I was seeking, but the politics and differences were too much.
In 2003, I started organizing the Druid Meetup and met lots of solitary Druids who were also looking for other Druids but could not find them. In 2004, I had started Awen Grove, which had a core group of like minded individuals and was there to be a central place for Druids to get together. My big mistake was trying to make it into a tradition similar to the ones I had seen in the community. (Another big fundamental difference between Druidry and Wicca.) I also got married at that time to member of the Wiccan community and that was something to remember.
In 2005, I was ordained as a Third Order Druid Priestess with the Reformed Druids of North America. (They seem laid back on the outside, but if you show the right dedication, you become invited into the other side of it, which is more formal.) I was allowed to use the term Arch Druid as a result of that ordination (per RDNA), but it felt odd, so I went with Founding Druid for Awen Grove.
In 2006, my husband and I moved out of Calgary and found peace at last from the quagmire that was the Calgary Pagan community. I was quite involved with the Druid Network since its inception, and managed to get a phone call in to one of the founders a couple of times. I learned that this is not something confined to my own locale, but that they experienced it in the UK a lot before the Druid communities became stronger. Then, everything seemed to balance out because of the fundamental differences in how things are handled. Was it because of the Druid groups growing in number and the need to compete with each other dropping? Who knows?
While “Pagans eat their Elders”, I learned that Pagans also eat each other. Sometimes, they surprise you! I ordained a long-time Grove Member into Awen Grove’s Third Order in 2014 and went solitary once again when I too got ‘eaten” (at least, that’s how I felt, but I got my karmic comeuppance.). Modern Druid groups have a long history of schisms due to differences in belief systems, etc. However, they are usually friendly, and I’m glad to still be friends with this person. 🙂 That’s how it should be.
That member has since started, along with some other Druids, a lovely Druid Grove in Calgary, with lots of members. They do regular seasonal rituals and a number of fun social and other events. This Grove has basically surpassed what I was looking to do a hundredfold and I could not be more proud. (For me, the goal of the facilitator is to see people take what you give them and surpass you with it. Mission accomplished!)
I am not a member of the new Grove, nor do I run my Grove as I did before. Awen Grove is strictly my inner Grove as I hit the last half of my life. It would be nice to be invited to rites of passage and such, or even to come in and provide a guest lecture. I’ve started doing this for some Wiccan groups in town as the Guest Druid speaker and it’s been a lot of fun! Weirdo that I am, I love speaking in public, and would love to be a guest at any group gathering or special occasion.
I feel that I have served my time as a teacher/facilitator of groups. A purpose was given to me, which has now been fulfilled. There are much more qualified and energetic people to do that now. My goal was to create or inspire some sort of Druid Community in Calgary. I wanted there to be someone or some group that new seekers could go to, find fellowship and seek their Truth. It happened with the new Druid Grove in Calgary, making that part of my work is fulfilled.
Carl Jung said that there are two halves in life. From birth until about 35, the person’s goal is external: trying to find one’s place, path, and establishment in life. After 35 comes the second half, where one turns inward and begins the work of individuation and self improvement. At 41, that’s what I am doing. I still follow my path of Service through being on Boards, helping to organize events like Calgary Pagan Pride Day and the most recent Gaia Gathering, and being the guest speaker. I serve in my “mundane” community on Boards and through my volunteer work. I’m using what I have learned to help make things happen, such as getting a women’s shelter built in my city, and running for office. Politics again! I must be a glutton for punishment! Big P politics is a little different from the small p politics of smaller groups.
I’m also taking time for myself through completing my OBOD studies (I’m halfway through the Druid Grade!) and joining the Sisterhood of Avalon, where I am learning and growing even more. I am still working on my book – for real! I’m just terrible at actually getting things out! Another thing to work on within myself.
One of the Keynote speakers from Gaia Gathering, JD Hobbes, a Druid from Quebec, is also discussing the concept of Elderhood in the Pagan Community and has an interesting proposal: “Can we move away from the problematic Elder title and embrace Helper instead? The Helper title does away with the ideas of hierarchy or authority, and comes from a humble and modest source, focussing instead on the ideals of service, action, nurturing, and support.”
I’m all for being the Helper! Let me know how I can help and I’ll be there! That’s all I’ve ever wanted: to make a difference, somehow, through Service. /|\