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Selling the Soul? Spirituality in a Capitalist Culture

CapitalismIsASpiritualDiseaseIn our increasingly materialistic world, an ethical question that plagues many of us who try to live as persons of spirit is that of whether, and how much, to charge for our services. A vocal section of the Druid and Pagan communities in Britain maintains that it is always wrong, verging on evil, to charge a fee for anything connected with spirituality. A cynic might argue that some who express this opinion do so because they expect to be given everything in life and to offer nothing in return. However, the same argument rages amongst Druids themselves, as it does amongst other indigenous healers, medicine people and shamans around the world.

The problem is that we live in a capitalist, consumerist culture, where, like everyone else, we have to pay rent or a mortgage, electricity, gas, water and telephone bills, feed ourselves and our families, buy fuel for our stoves, clothes to wear and so on and on and endlessly on. To do so, even the most spiritual of us need money, because, for better or worse, money has come to be the accepted means of exchange for virtually every material thing we need to keep us fed, housed and clothed. Therefore we need a way to make money in order to live.

Many spirit workers subsidise their spirituality by having other jobs that they do to earn their keep. I've CatatGMritedone this myself, subsidising the growth of the BDO throughout the 1990s out of my earnings from painting pottery and then from writing, giving talks and workshops and appearing on TV, often with Bobcat (Emma Restall Orr). Bobcat and I debated the financial question and reached various conclusions, one of which was not to charge a fee for 'priestly' services such as conducting handfastings (Druid weddings) or other rites of passage, but to ask for a donation of whatever the folk we were working with thought appropriate. This led to us preparing and conducting rites in various parts of the country for anything from a bag of apples to a cheque for £600. It balanced out. This is a technique used by spirit workers in many cultures.

Many of my 'shamanic' friends say that, if you have faith, spirit will provide. Again, this is a widespread belief amongst spirit workers worldwide. At the same time, we're all canny enough to recognise that just sitting around waiting for riches to pour out of the sky isn't going to work. We need to be active participants in the process, from deciding on the forms ceremonies are to take to making travel arrangements and booking venues.

In the British Druid Order, we charge for the distance learning courses we offer. We could give them away, but we don't. Why? Well, I've spent an average of about 40 hours a week working on them over the last seven years and still have at least another eighteen months to go. For six of those years I received nothing at all for this work. Even at the national minimum wage of £6.32 an hour, I could have expected to earn over £75,000 or £12,500 a year. I did it without payment because it seemed like the right thing to do and it was also a good thing to do, in part because of what I learned from it and gained in terms of personal growth. Oh, and because I doubt that the BDO has generated £75,000 in its entire 35-year existence.

Following my wife's death in 2000, I received financial support that enabled me to put in all these hours on the courses whilst bringing up our two sons. Only when that support ended did I, out of necessity, begin to draw any payment from the BDO. Given that the BDO courses are relatively new (our first went online in June 2011) and unknown (we only began to advertise beyond our own websites when our second course went online in 2012), the BDO does not produce much revenue and the amount I draw from it comes nowhere near covering my family's living costs. As I write, myself and two of my sons are living on my savings. I keep working on these courses, however, because I believe in them, and part of that belief is that they will one day generate a living wage sufficient to keep me through my rapidly approaching old age.

My BDO colleagues and I spent about a year and a half deciding how much to charge for our courses. Should we charge a token amount just to cover admin? Should we charge the same as OBOD? No, because our digital delivery doesn't entail anything like the overheads and secretarial costs that OBOD has. But pitch our cost too far below OBOD's and we risk upsetting people who might think we were deliberately trying to undercut them. In the end, we settled on a compromise figure that more-or-less satisfied everyone, and we do consider requests for reduced fees in cases of genuine financial hardship.

cash-cowHow much to charge for individual events is also a cause of much debate within the BDO. My parents never had much money, I was raised to be frugal and, in my hippy youth, lived for some time on nothing but the kindness of strangers. The result was the malnutrition that contributed to my mental breakdown at the age of 18, but that's another story 😉 As I've tried to make clear, my motives for being a Druid are not financial. I'm reminded of Robin Williamson's joke, “Did you hear about the Irishman who became a folk musician for the money?” Druidry is not a cash cow. However, if they're well-planned and conceived, Druid events can make a bit, or at least break even. When Elaine Gregory and I, ably assisted by many wonderful friends and colleagues, hosted The World Drum in April 2013, we took it to ceremonies all around the West and South-West of Britain for six weeks, culminating in a wonderful weekend at Wild Ways in Shropshire. Most of the ceremonies were free. Two events were charged for. At the end of the time the Drum was with us, we managed to break even and were delighted to do so.

Will, Lena & White Cougar in the woods at Wild WaysPart of the reason we were able to charge so little for the World Drum 2013 events is that many of our teachers and musicians gave their services for nothing, including World Drum founders, Kyrre Franck White Cougar and Morten Wolf Storeide, and their friends, Lena Paalviig Johnsen and Will Rubach, who travelled over from Norway at their own expense to bring us the amazing Chaga ceremony and to be with us in other ceremonies with the Drum.

In May this year, White, Morten and Lena are coming back, accompanied by Bobby Kure and Anita Dreyer, members of the shamanic band, Baalfolket. This time we hope to make a few quid. We obviously need to in order to cover the hire of two venues, travel expenses and other basic costs, but we also want to be able to pay the guys something for coming over to the UK for 12 days. Like us, they have to have money to live. I even hope to make a few quid myself to compensate for the many hours work involved in putting these events together, producing leaflets, visiting venues, generating advertising. And why not? If I were doing these things in any other sphere of activity, no one would bat an eyelid at my being paid a reasonable sum for my time and expertise.

Why then do I still feel vaguely guilty about it? Partly, it's a hangover from my impoverished youth, partly it's because I view the whole capitalist enterprise as deeply and irrevocably flawed. It rewards the basest of human motives, relying on the vast majority of the world's population having next to nothing so that a tiny, obscenely wealthy minority can lord it over the rest of us. It stinks. No wonder I feel guilty. It baffles me that anyone doesn't. And yet, as said, until we demand and get a better, purer, more equitable way of running human affairs, my family and I need money to live.

CelticWarriorFor most of the existence of classical Druidry, of course, we were supported by the warrior aristocracy of Iron Age Europe (OK, this guy may not look like a patron of the arts, but take my word for it, he loved nothing better than a finely honed poem), a patronage that was transferred to the bardic colleges of Ireland, Wales and Scotland. We were part of society's elite, fed, housed, clothed, provided with musical instruments and given high social status because our services were deemed worthwhile. We sang for our supper … in the case of bards, literally. We advised kings, divined, prophesied, oversaw ceremonies, told tales of gods and heroes, judged legal disputes, healed the sick, created poems of praise or blame, and, for many centuries, were both honoured and handsomely rewarded for doing so. We still do many of these things, but without either the social status or the payment, bed and board that came with it. We are, instead, looked upon as colourful eccentrics at best, dangerous loonies at worst, occasionally despised, more often simply ignored by our wider society. Hence our need to find new ways of making a living.

Druidry is no longer viewed as a job but as a hobby. For some of us though, it wholly defines who we are and what we do. For this minority of driven individuals, Druidry is our calling, and one that we see as every bit as valid and valuable as more recognised fields such as traditional teaching or medicine or, of course, priesthood in the more mainstream religions. I very much hope that our courses demonstrate both the breadth and the worth of Druidry. I know from my own experience that Druidry can and does regularly transform and even save lives.

The Druid Network undertook a three-year campaign, the result of which was to have Druidry as they HenryVIII&Popeunderstand and practice it recognised as a valid religion, the Druid Network itself achieving the status of a charity. This status means, among other things, that they can legally accept donations and bequests and have certain tax and planning advantages. Such charitable status for 'alternative' religious groups is commonplace in the United States, where freedom of religion is written into the Constitution and, as a result, has traditionally been taken seriously by legislators. The presence of Native Americans endeavouring to maintain their own religious cultures has also played a part in ensuring that religious balance under law is maintained in the USA. In the UK, on the other hand, we have had a state religion since Henry VIII's decision to abandon Catholicism so that he could get a divorce. This state religion, Anglicanism, as manifested through the Church of England, has, until recently, enjoyed a virtual monopoly on state support and the status and financial advantages that such support brings.

However, the Druid Network case does not mean that all Druid groups now have charitable status or official recognition. Should other groups such as the BDO decide that charitable status was a good idea, we would need to go through much the same bureaucratic process that TDN went through in order to prove that our brand of Druidry is also worthy of the name religion and that we too have purposes in mind that come under the fairly broad umbrella of 'charitable.' If we wanted to, I'm sure we could, but it would involve precisely the kind of bureaucracy that our current constitution seeks to avoid while gaining us very little.

The most successful Druid group in the world currently is the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. obodawenMy friends, Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, have been running it for nearly thirty years. During that time, they have also been running a Montessori School, Stephanie has worked for Glyndebourne Opera House and Philip has written numerous books (some with Stephanie) and lectured widely. It is these latter activities that have kept the roof over their heads and food on the table, not running a Druid Order. Some folk have the mistaken impression that they were making loads of money from OBOD camps. On the contrary, it was only the Summer Camps that ever made a profit at all, and that was used to subsidise the camps in the rest of the year that ran at a loss. Druidry is not a cash cow, one simple reason being that it is a minority interest, best estimates being that there may be 10,000 Druids in the UK, or 0.01% of the population, though the true figure may be less. There's also the fact that many of us attracted to Druidry and other 'alternative spiritualities' are, to a greater or lesser degree, outsiders within our society, a position that leaves us ill-placed as well as un-inclined to benefit from its capitalist structures and agendas.

Ours is by no means the only culture to wrestle with the uncomfortable clash between spirituality and GaryHolyBullcommerce. A Lakota healer called Gary Holy Bull (his Lakota name is Ampohiksila, which means 'Sunrise') has spoken of his own struggle with this dilemma:

“Prior to 1942, everyone took care of their healers and medicine people. They understood the sacrifices that they made. Today, unfortunately, too many people feel that giving a K-Mart blanket is a sufficient offering for seeking spiritual help. It's a very difficult life that we live. We have to pay bills, have a home, drive a car, and place groceries on the table.

“I was always told to ask for nothing. If a person asks you to do a ceremony, they will give you what is needed. The Creator helps you in this way. When you seek the help of a spiritual person, think about the price they pay to help you.

“I was taught that you should give to others because the Creator will return it to you. You will get twice as much back as you put out for others. You give because you have compassion for children and for families.

“Here's the advice I give to others who want to know how to approach a medicine person. First, don't call them. Go find them, no matter how far you have to drive. Then offer them some tobacco*. This is called a binding ceremony. Then tell him or her what you need. Don't insult him by leaving a skull of an animal, a seashell, or a feather, because his family doesn't eat animal skulls or seashells. If you don't want to leave money, then buy some groceries, or some fuel oil for his stove. Don't insult him with five dollars. Give in proportion to the value of what is being done for your life. Show your sincere appreciation. Demonstrate your compassion to the Creator through generosity and sharing. In the old days, a family would give up several horses to be healed. What price is enough for your life?”

So you see it's not just us. Similar views are expressed by spirit workers around the world. The big, organised churches can pay their clergy a living wage because they have, over many centuries, demanded payment from 'the faithful' and expected many of them to leave their entire fortunes to their church when they die. Groups such as Scientology have flourished financially by being arranged as pyramid selling schemes designed to generate wealth for those at the top. The Guru Maharaj Ji, founder of the Divine Light Mission, became hugely wealthy by exploiting his followers, buying himself a fleet of Rolls Royces, yachts, personal jets, etc. Fortunately, such exploitation is anathema to all the Druids I've ever met.

I think the answer is that when everyone else stops demanding money from us for taxes, services and goods and adopts a barter system instead, we'll be utterly delighted to do the same. In the meantime, we'll continue to struggle with our consciences and the Druid community will continue to benefit from those struggles as we strive to do everything for as little as we can feasibly manage and still put food on the table.

Many blessings,

Greywolf /|\

Published on Categories 'Shamanism', BDO Courses, British Druid Order, Druidry, Druids, Morality, Musings, Teaching, The World Drum, Uncategorized

About Greywolf

I'm Greywolf (aka Philip Shallcrass). My main claim to fame (such as it is) is that I'm chief of the British Druid Order (BDO). I discovered Druidry in 1974, seeing it as a native British 'shamanic' spirituality. An Alexandrian Wiccan coven I joined in 1978 transformed into the Grove of the Badger as Druidry increasingly replaced Wicca in its rites. The end result was the BDO. Emma Restall Orr was joint chief of the Order with me from 1995 to 2002. I live in rural Wiltshire, not far from my spiritual heartland, the area in and around the Avebury henge. I'm a writer, musician, artist, drum-maker, roundhouse-builder and thatcher. I have three sons who share my obsession with music, books and film. Personal obsessions include the work of Britain's greatest bard, Robin Williamson, the comic books of Jack 'King' Kirby (1907-1994) and the speed-freak rock'n'roll of The Screaming Blue Messiahs.

26 thoughts on “Selling the Soul? Spirituality in a Capitalist Culture

  1. avatarJohn King

    Utah Phillips, the song writer had a motto, making a living, not a killing....for me....I've taught yoga for many years....I believe it leads towards policy has always been.....I make money from teaching yoga, I don't teach yoga to make's all in the intention...

  2. avatarMeL

    I have no guilt about charging for readings etc. I do on free one most weeks with TABI but as you rightly say, that won't put food on the table. I'm self employed in Spain and have to pay around €360 a month for that whether or not I make any money. My main job is seasonal with usually nothing coming in through the winter. My wife,bless her has to go and do live in care work off and on through the winter months. I stay and look after our three rescue dogs and the odd stray bit of work that comes in. Readings that actually pay are few and far between. In by gone days, the shaman would be an honoured guest in a village and receive shelter, food and gifts. Today they are looked on as just eccentric at best.

    1. avatarGreywolf

      That pretty much hits the nail on the head, Mel. In my more optimistic moments, I like to imagine that one day all those folks out there will realise what they've been missing all these years and start to offer us friendship, the odd meal and a bit of rent money. As Neil Young says though, "I'm a dreamin' man, guess that's my problem." 😉

  3. avatarSally

    I think you and other druids / healers perform a fantastic service which is highly valued - at least it should be. If you give up your time and personal energy then it is fair for the recipient to give something in return. This is common practise with reiki, counselling and many other alternative therapies. Strangely (?) or maybe not strangely, more value is placed on the service provided when a reciprocal arrangement is made. It puts the giver and receiver on more equal terms and I think the service provided is more highly valued as a result. Sadly, because we live in a consumer society, anything we get for nothing / a freebie, is welcome, but how much is it valued? I think there has to be some form of exchange to show mutual respect of giver and receiver. It doesn't have to be money, but something that is going to keep the wolf from the door (sorry!) or another service of value. Therefore those that say spiritual acts / events should be free as you cannot put a price on spirituality are not valuing the very thing they purport to desire. There is always a price to be paid, and maybe they will understand that in the next life...karma! So go ahead and do what feels right 🙂 Just my opinion - sorry for rambling on!

    1. avatarGreywolf

      You make a very good point, Sally, that of fair exchange, and that doesn't always have to be in cash. The vast majority of the 'pay' I've got from doing these weird things has come either in terms of personal growth or in terms of meeting some truly remarkable and lovely people 🙂

    1. avatarGreywolf

      Thank you, Raven 🙂
      Incidentally, a facebook friend in the States tells me than an Episcopalian minister over there gets $70,000 a year, plus full health coverage, plus a living allowance, plus transport assistance. Even the basic salary amounts to about £840 a week in UK terms. That's double any income I've ever had at any point in my life. Almost enough to make one convert ... no, actually it's not ... not at all ... I'll stick with Druidry, once memorably described in a magazine headline as "Religion Without the Boring Bits." 😉
      Peace and love,
      Greywolf /|\

  4. avatarFyre Shaman

    It is a shame that you chose to use a Vajrayana Buddhist image to make your point. Would you have used a cartoon of Mohammed? Shame, as it detracts from your message.

    1. avatarGreywolf

      Hello Fyre Shaman,
      The image was created by poet and artist, Kenji C. Liu, to help raise awareness of the Occupy movement and I used it here because it seems precisely appropriate to the subject of the piece. The 'cartoon of Mohammed' argument is one that appears regularly now. Personally, what I find grossly offensive is that people should be threatened with death or actually murdered over a picture. This is not OK. Being offended is not an excuse for murder, whatever your religion. If people want to make and publish facetious, satirical or downright vulgar cartoons of any of my gods, I'm very happy for them to do so. If they use them to promote an agenda of peaceful change for the better in our world, I would be absolutely delighted.
      Incidentally, you can see more of Kenji C. Liu's work on his website, He seems like a pretty decent guy 🙂
      Many blessings,
      Greywolf /|\

      1. avatarGreywolf

        PS. One of the Four Purities of Vajrayana Buddhism being performing one's actions only for the benefit of others must place it in clear opposition to the kind of corporate greed that the Occupy movement is seeking to end, while again, I hope, fitting well with the overall theme of the piece 🙂

  5. avatarLaura

    I am a Buddhist as well as a Druid and I am not offended in the least by this image. I think he is Vajrakilaya the remover of obstacles. And what is more I cannot think of any Lama I know that would be and I know quite a few for the all have a sense of humour about them and never take themselves too seriously.

  6. avatarFiona

    Hi Greywolf - I find this subject of debate really interesting as for years I did readings for free for friends alongside working a "normal" job. I took the plunge in 2012 to give up the day job following a series of events, relocated and in 2013 I opened a New Age Shop and started to charge for the readings (which I still feel uncomfortable about). I opened the shop in order to provide a spiritual "hub" in my community and it is already developing with various holistic practitioners being able to use the space to offer treatments. I am not even earning a wage at the moment just breaking even, but the richness comes from the people I am meeting, being able to help others and the spiritual development I am gaining. All I ask is that I can stay in business and eventually earn enough to feed and clothe my family. Sorry for long reply - Blessings

    1. avatarGreywolf

      Hi Fiona,
      It's always going to be a juggle for those of us not motivated by money. But then I guess if we were motivated by money, we'd be accountants or estate agents.
      I hope the shop goes well. Where are you located?
      Greywolf /|\

  7. avatarBrian Taylor

    Hello Greywolf,

    After a vivid and friendly wolf dream last night I thought I'd get in touch. The above seems reasonable to me - especially flexible scales of charges, since wealth inequality has become an ever increasing chasm over the past 35 years or so!

    The main difficulty I have with BDO, and other Druid organisations, is with your apparent indifference to democracy. Whilst appreciating the work you do, and feeling a close kinship with much of it, I'm as baffled by this as you undoubtedly are by people's acquiescence to capitalism.

    Your considerable personal contribution would, surely, be legitimised (as well as valued) within a democratic structure? A woman friend's comment on your constitution (that enshrines your pivotal position in BDO) was 'typical patriarchal ****'. I'm sure this issue must have come up over the years? The 'chosen chief' (as OBOD call it) arrangement, would constitute a major barrier to your interesting work being taken seriously in many of the circles I move (or have moved) in, and may well be deterring many critically minded potential members/students. Aaaagh. I find this so frustrating.

    I really hope you can reduce my bafflement and reservations.

    There's more, of course, but for now ...

    Seasonal Blessings


    1. avatarGreywolf

      Let me reassure you, Brian, that I'm not indifferent to democracy. Indeed, I'd love for someone to give it a try one day 😉 OK, a bit flippant there, but my point is that the type of democracy operated in most countries, including the UK, is a very limited one, consisting mainly of the right to cast a vote for one of a small group of political parties every few years. In between, most of us have little opportunity to play any significant part in the political process, which is why people are increasingly frustrated by it and why voter numbers continue to fall. That's identified the problem. Is there a solution? An obvious one would be to hold regular referenda on a broad range of issues. The problem then arises that, for this to work, it would require a well-informed electorate capable of making informed decisions rather than simply registering knee-jerk responses. A media not saturated by celebrity nonsense could go some way towards creating that.
      The problem with democracy is that it's supposed to be government "of the people, by the people and for the people." In practice, as with most other political systems, it ends up being government of the rest of us by a small elite. The same thing happened with Communism in the Soviet Union.
      I'd be interested to know why your friend views our constituion as 'typical patriarchal ****.' The document as it stands was put together using as a basis one provided by a government website, largely for the purpose of registering the BDO as a not-for-profit group with a loose structure centred around a Circle of Elders and without paid employees. Had I been writing it from scratch, it's not framed in the kind of language I'd have used, but it seems to be the sort of language officialdom requires. Is it the language your friend objects to or are there specifics within the document?
      In terms of democracy, I think such little structure as we have is about as democratic as we can feasibly make it and still have a functioning group. When there are things that seem to need consultation (like changes to the constitution) we have put them online for people to comment on and acted in line with their comments.
      The reason I am chief (not chosen 😉 ) of the BDO is quite simply that I created it, have attempted to keep it going (and changing) over four decades, have written a large percentage of the course material and edited the rest, and seem therefore to be in a better position than anyone else to act as its figure-head. Had it not been for that forty years of work, there would be no BDO. I try, as said, to remain responsive to members' needs and wishes, though no group of any kind is ever going to satisfy everyone in all its aspects and any attempt to do so is likely to end up with a wishy-washy mess of platitudes that get no one anywhere.
      Not sure if that will have eased or increased your frustrations?
      Many blessings,
      Greywolf /|\

  8. avatarGreywolf

    Incidentally, Brian, if it helps on the 'patriarchal' front, I did share the post of BDO chief with Emma Restall Orr for seven years and have noticed that BDO membership consists of more women than men, with women prominent amongst our Circle of Elders and as contributors to our courses. Personally, I admit to being a man ... I just happen to have been born that way, though my formerly luxurious flowing locks and habit of wearing make-up did sometimes lead to confusion in my pre-bearded youth 😉

  9. avatarelaine

    I am one of the core members of BDO. I do a lot of work in the background and also run ceremonies with Greywolf from time to time as well as supporting many of the events BDO run. I run the BDO shop and do a lot of the on the ground admin for events. If I am lucky an event may well pay the expenses and put something into the wear and tear pot for Wild Ways, if it is here. Otherwise I work for free for BDO.
    Much of the work that happens on this land is done on a barter basis and/or by people who live here. I expect to do much of the heavy and grotty work myself, not expecting others to do jobs that I wouldn't do myself. If a machine has to be driven to somewhere difficult then I will take it myself rather than put anyone else at risk. I am not left wing or right wing. I don't have a 'class'. I honour the person who sweeps the road and aristocrat equally. Most folk are a complex mix of what life has spun them and do their best with being human and walking the earth. I kind of think that we are responsible for all the bad stuff that happens but also for all the good stuff as well, as humans. If I put anger into the world then I may well increase the anger pot. So I think it is those humans who work the light into the world who keep it safe, whatever their spirituality, creed or belief,not the label we choose to be known by.
    I am curious about the BDO constitution issue raised here. Is there something we need to change?
    Greywolf and I work closely together although this is not apparent publically. There are other females who will tweak Greywolf's ear should he step into thinking he is 'King' material in any serious way. I do think that Druids are very individual and as such I would not like the 'label' to indicate that I can be grouped in my thoughts to any great degree. As to Obod. I have every respect for Steph and Philip and I am also an Obod Druid. BDO will not suit every druid, and I expect Obod is the same. I think this is ok.. I love my friends but don't always share their opinion... - Greywolf and I don't always agree, I bend his ear quite often... Blessings to all, Elaine

    1. avatarGreywolf

      Divine presences preserve me from kingship, guruhood or anything else that implies in any way any kind of power over anyone. I have enough to do taking responsibility for myself and trying to be a decent parent to my sons without endeavouring to control anyone else's destiny. The expectation in the BDO is that each member takes responsibility for themselves and their actions. We offer guidance, support and inspiration, not dogma, decrees or directives.
      I've known Philip and Stephanie since not long after they revived the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids at the end of the 1980s, and neither of them are candidates for guruhood either, in fact I've seldom met two people who go to such strenuous lengths to avoid it.
      The fact remains, though, that if some of us didn't put things like BDO and OBOD together and expend a great deal of time and effort, with a lot of assistance, to keep them going and growing, they simply wouldn't exist at all, and a lot of people do derive a lot of benefit from them. Of course, if anyone wants to found their own Druid Order, it's a free and open field and I'm only too happy to applaud and support them. All it takes is forty years of largely unpaid work, driven by spirits, abused by some, occasionally dying and dancing on the edge of insanity. Go for it!

  10. avatarBrian Taylor

    Thanks for this Philip. You may well be a warmhearted inspirer, gifted facilitator, and natural 'spotlight kid', and hence the right figurehead for BDO. Not eweveryone has those gifts. I can only go by what I read, but have heard some nice things about you. 🙂

    My qualms were raised by the fact that your retain sole right to invite people on the Circle of Elders. Of course there's a lot of pseudo democracy at the level of the nation state, but coming from a background in the voluntary sector I've seen more local and direct forms of democracy work fairly well. I'd be the first to agree that they're not an anarchist panacea, but when they do work well (e.g. by democratically selecting a management group on a rotational basis, some posts coming up for re-election each year) this can help prevent an 'elite' becoming detached from the rest. As far as I remember, your constitution doesn't say anything about the status of A.G.M votes? (I don't have time to get my fine tooth comb out 🙂 Individual groves are perhaps informally democratic?

    Your long contribution to BDO undoubtedly puts you in a unique position, but beware of what, in the co-operative movement, used to be called 'Founder's Syndrome'!

    My friend's 'patriarhal ***' comment was prompted by a combination of your apparent hold over the selection of elders, by your friend Philip C.G's 'chosen' status at OBOD (whatever next!), and by Kristopher Hughes's constitutional role as 'sole arbiter of spiritual matters' at the Angelsey Druid Order (I hope I've remebered his name and the detail from their constitution correctly). Taken together, you must surely see that all of this can easily give a certain impression? Its the main reason that I backed away from Druidry(another being that I'm not very Celtic orientated).

    Otherwise we have much in common, including early visionary experience at a time of crisis, a life changing ISB concert, other-than-human 'spirit' helpers, and a deep sense of the wonder of cosmic nature ....

    so, May the Long Time Sun Shine Pon You!


  11. avatarGreywolf

    Ah, I see what you mean, Brian, and thank you for the explanation.
    Philip Carr-Gomm has spent the last several years setting up structures within OBOD that operate independently of him, partly so that OBOD can survive his passing when it comes, rather than cease to function as it did when his predecessor, Nuinn, died. Over the next few years, I plan to do the same with the BDO. Once the third of our courses is complete, I hope the BDO will be in a position to continue in my absence and will do my best to ensure that it can. Till then, my approach will remain inspired by the Tao Te Ching, i.e. to lead by appearing to follow.
    The BDO Circle of Elders consists of those who do most for the BDO in terms of admin, writing for the courses, hosting ceremonies, staging retreats, etc. It's a team of practical, capable people who are, in effect, self-selected by doing what they do and doing it well and largely independently.
    Our courses represent the core of the BDO, a distillation of everything we've been about since the Order's inception. They are relatively new, the first having only gone online less than three years ago, so it will take a while for people to become sufficiently familiar with them to be able to manage them successfully. Having written a fair chunk of them and edited the rest, I currently know them better than anyone and am therefore best placed to maintain them, apply updates in response to students' needs, integrate new information into them, etc.. This will change once all three are complete and more people have worked through them.
    The Avebury Gorsedd came about because of a ceremony I created, but it was never my intention to retain control over it. The same applies to other Gorseddau founded by the BDO. Those that continue do so as independent entities, while others have been superseded by locally-driven alternatives. Similarly, I don't envisage myself micro-managing the BDO for ever, nor would I want to, only for as long as it's necessary, which at the moment, it is.
    Apart from my role as course editor, in any group of people, there is always the possibility of conflict, and unresolved conflict can be very destructive. Therefore it makes sense to have someone in a position to arbitrate. Again, that role currently falls to me.
    What it boils down to is that someone has to initiate groups or they don't come into existence in the first place. Having initiated them, someone (normally the initiator) then needs to set a path for them and take responsibility for what they become and what they do. Someone also has to be in a position to make decisions that need making. At present, for reasons stated, this is me. Over time, it will increasingly fall to the Circle of Elders and I can retire on a modest pension to bee-keeping on the Sussex coast, occsionally visited by my old friend, Dr. Watson.
    Incidentally, Philip Carr-Gomm's title of 'chosen chief' is inherited from his predecessor, who inherited it from the parent group, the ADO. It's a piece of tradition. It also carries within it the idea that the chief has to be chosen and I'm pretty sure that OBODies couldn't choose a better one. It's a role he shares with Stephanie and, as said, one that they increasingly delegate aspects of to others within the Order.
    I don't know the constitution of the Anglesey Order so can't comment on it.
    Maybe worth bearing in mind, though, that the Incredible String Band fell apart when it became a fully democratic committee 😉
    On which note, how could I resist ending with a couple of my favourite Robin Williamson verses of all time?:

    'Ask anyone,' he muttered, as he spat a small,
    Brilliant blue insect whirring into the gauze.
    'I would advise stilts for the quagmires,
    And camels for the snowy hills,
    And any survivors
    Their debts I will certainly pay.
    There's always a way, there's always a way.

    I smiled with that gallantly concealed forceful nervousness
    That has proved that oysters cry
    And that I have come to know and accept as myself.
    And plucking a barbed feather from the morose universe
    I called him deathless
    And left before he could reply.
    Open your eyes, open your eyes...

    Not entirely relevant perhaps, but just gorgeous 🙂

  12. avatarBrian Taylor

    Thanks for the above Philip. I hope your gradual transition away from the hub of BDO goes well, both for you, and for others taking on a variety of public roles, - and that structure of BDO evolves accordingly. I suspect that, like most of my retired friends, you'll be doing more than 'just' bee-keeping for a long while yet.

    1. avatarGreywolf

      I think you're right, Brian. I seem incapable of not working these days. Considering how easy I found laziness in my youth, this has come as something of a surprise 😉


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