STOP QUOTING THE POLICY AT ME! (Or: Your Piece of Paper Doesn’t Exclude Me Any Less)

I am so tired of having ‘the policy’ quoted at me.

This year I wanted to attend Autscape. I am tired, so tired, of daily trying to fight my way into the neurotypical world. I was excited about an event that puts autistic people at the centre, makes itself accessible to all autistic and neurodivergent people.

Then I found out it wasn’t fully accessible to wheelchair users.

OK, I thought. Maybe I can make it work for me. Maybe I can be creative, work around issues, with the help of the organising committee who will no doubt support me with information and help.

Then I found out that it’s their policy to focus on wheelchair accessibility only ever other year, to keep costs down the other year. And the familiar disappointment kicked in. And I just… gave up.

I found it a little ironic that the theme of this year’s Autscape was ‘creating autistic space’. Autistic space that excludes certain autistic people. And that when I talked with a delegate over twitter about a session running there on the subject of exclusion in the autistic community, I was told that wheelchair accessibility had already been discussed (with the hint that it would not be discussed again). While the person no doubt meant the comment helpfully, it was a reminder that even in discussions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, a whole excluded group has already been ‘dealt with’ and the conversation there has ended.

All because of a policy.

To quote an email I sent to a friend today:

I told my wheelchair-using autistic friend about this and she wondered how the autistic community would feel about a neurodiversity conference that wasn’t accessible to autistic people every other year. Despite the fact that everyone is quoting the bloody policy at me every time I bring this up, telling me that it will be accessible next year is not good enough… I sobbed my way through reading the Autscape twitter feed this year. And deleted a tweet complaining about access because I worried I’d get shouted at. Really sucks.

Pagan Parallels

I’ve talked a lot, mostly on my other blog, about inaccessibility in the Pagan community. It continues without much sign of improvement, especially in London. The excuse gets rolled out a lot when I complain – whatever the excuse is, whether needing privacy for discussion, or the inaccessibility of pubs in London, or (funniest of all) that no wheelchair users ever come to the events. (Really?! No wheelchair users come to events held in an upstairs room? You do surprise me!)

For the past couple of years I’ve also been struggling with OBOD‘s approaches to accessibility and policies about certain disability issues. (More on that later when I feel up to discussing it, and maybe at Gods and Radicals soon.) Once again, it’s not so much the existence of the policy that’s the problem (although it is a problem). Worse is the way that people respond every. single. time. I mention it. “This is the reason for the policy! Learn about the policy! It is a good policy!”

Brick walls, and communal dismissive attitudes, and regrouping protectively around the boundaries of your organisation. These are the very definition of exclusion.

Please Stop Quoting the Policy At Me: Some Effects of Brick-Wall Exclusionary Policy-Citing

It’s one thing for something to be inaccessible or exclusionary. It’s quite another for you to have enshrined that inaccessibility in a policy – and then to constantly quote that policy at me as justification for your inaccessibility. I know there’s usually a reason for inaccessibility. I know it’s sometimes a really good reason. Can we please assume that, as an informed disability rights campaigner, I already know the reason, disagree with it, and would like to move on to talking about ways forward, alternatives that might include me and people like me? Instead, though, I meet the brick wall of a hundred people quoting the policy whenever I mention access difficulties. Or saying things at me like “This has been discussed before,” as though that solves the problem. Somehow, never an apology. Never a “Here’s what we’re in the process of doing to try and fix this, longer-term.” Never even an acknowledgement that this is a problem, a policy of exclusion, an example of disability oppression. Always the justification. Always the assertion that they are right, and that I am the one with the problem.

As a result, I feel excluded from your community. (Which becomes your community, not mine anymore.) I increasingly withdraw from your events, including those that are fully accessible. I become avoidant about talking to people from your group about access at future events. I become scared of your group. Mentions of it start to be upsetting to me. Your group stops representing safe space, and starts representing exclusion and oppression.

I Keep Offering Help…

I don’t have a lot of  free time. The time I do have is spent dividing up my tasks (PhD, other work, volunteering in many ways, personal life) against my spoons, trying to eke them out into something that approximates a rewarding life. Yet I will always respond to inaccessibility with an offer to help fix it – usually for free. Consider taking me up on this. I charge private organisations around £250 per half day for this help. If I’ve offered you help to fix something, you’re being offered something valuable from a trained and experienced Disability Equality Trainer and widely-published writer on the subject. If you turn me down, and then get taken to court by someone with more determination than me, and find yourselves unable to say you’ve done anything, you might start wishing you’d accepted the help. (I’m talking mainly to the dozens of Pagan orgs and groups I’ve offered help to, here.)

There’s a related question, too: how far do I have a responsibility to fight these things? Can I belong to OBOD when I know that one of their policies, and other of their accessibility practices, are problematic for entire swathes of the disabled community? Can I go to Autscape knowing that their policy is to exclude wheelchair users every other year? In both cases, the policies do exist for really good reasons, in one case (Autscape) with the aim of not excluding others (people living in poverty). Intersectionality is complex, and the real world is a complicated place. So what is my responsibility to campaign and fight here? Do I have a personal obligation to fight and campaign? And how does that affect my right, and need, to live as ordinary a life as possible? (I need spiritual practices/groups that make me happy and I need safe autistic spaces. Am I allowed them, as a campaigner with integrity?)

Accessibility Has More To Do With Imagination Than Money

Yes, accessibility can (sometimes) be expensive.

Yes, inclusive policies can open you up to other kinds of legal issues.

You can still make change, with enough imagination. Druid Camp is working with me on making their camp more accessible for more disabled people. If they can manage that in an empty field, you can change a few things with a little creative thought.

And by accepting help from those who offer it.

And by not shouting people down, but instead being willing to listen and change.

Final Thought: A World of Disappointment

For me, my experience as I engage with an inaccessible society is one of consistent disappointment. I meet disappointment about 80% of the time that I want to do something other people can do. And I am disappointed in people I want to think better of.

I would like to live in a world in which I experienced a little less disappointment.

And this is why we fight.

Resources

I’ve recently been writing about exclusion from universities and churches, in relation to my research, for a creative research journal that’s coming out soon. I’ll link to it here when it’s out.

I’ve set up a Facebook group for marginalised Pagans from minority, oppressed and excluded groups. Do join if you fall into that category. I’d like to get allies together to work on some of these issues.

Cross-posted to my non-Pagan, campaigning blog. Because the lines between spiritual experience and civil rights are fuzzy.

Modern Gods and Urban Druids

On one of the Pagan online forums where I hang out, someone asked how old gods think about new technologies, and whether they think about them at all. This was an Awen-moment for me. Here’s the reply I wrote.

I guess there are two ways of thinking of this (or maybe more and I’ve only thought of two!) In American Gods, the old gods are fighting new gods – of technology, computers, TV, modern music, etc. The old gods don’t understand either these new things, or the gods of them. That’s the school of thought that says that the gods are from the old world (literally, in the case of American Gods) and can’t understand the new world.

Another approach, though, might be to realise that, even though we see the world as changing very fast because we’re in the centre of it now, maybe the world doesn’t change that fast, from the viewpoint of someone who sees things very differently. Maybe the people who worked with that new-fangled bronze wondered whether the gods could keep up with them – and thousands of years later, humanity is just sliding from one form of tools (technologies) to another, with old deities seeing it all as the folly of humanity – or the fun of us, maybe.

From that perspective, I see some of the gods as cheerfully taking on new technologies of all kinds. I imagine Mercury as taking gleeful charge of IT and modern communication technology (while having fun dropping Skype calls and prompting us to send those emails that we immediately regret once we press ‘send’). I can see Morrighan enjoying digital tarot decks and oracular ipod playlists, thinking that she could have done with these at the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh. Ogma seems to enjoy my forays into scholarship just as much when I’m researching via Google Scholar and using Dragon Dictate to write my papers as when I’m in old musty libraries or writing with ink fountain pens. (Though he does seem to be a fan of the British Library.) I imagine Airmed and Brighid enjoying modern healthcare and medical treatments very much. I have no doubt that Camulus (Brythonic war god) is very impressed by nuclear weapons and unmanned drones. Taranis (god of the wheel and thunder) might enjoy cars and rock concerts. Hard to say whether Epona and Macha like modern horse-racing – they probably either adore putting money on the horses, or worry about their safety too much. Lugh must love football and test cricket and the iron man contest. I suspect Coventina protects the canal systems and waterways of Britain, looking after the exploited, insecure people who live on barges and house-boats. Maybe Elen of the Ways looks after our motorway system and you can meet her at bleak service stations all the way up the M1, if you look hard enough.

I used to wish I was more of a classic Pagan, liking crafts or playing lots of musical instruments or dancing all the time. I’m increasingly accepting that my love of technology and the modern world is not a bad thing. As an urban druid (TM), it works for me, sort of as the vehicle for my path. I’m already setting up online groups for Pagans who like that sort of thing, and I’m thinking that I need to go further with my tech-happiness and get good at things like doing readings online, and adapting old hoodoo workings to computer-based life, and online rituals and what have you. I’m not an olde worlde Pagan, and I don’t think my gods are olde worlde gods either. (It helps that I’m dedicated to a very chaotic deity who’s just as happy to interrupt my life technologically as she is doing it the old fashioned way.)

…I may need to start make offerings to Mercury and to Brighid of the Forge before using my computer…

– Leithin Cluan, worshiping the gods through her iPhone since 2010.

What do you think? Which modern gods have dominion over modern art, iPhone app development, or live indie music? Which of them help insecure temp workers on minimum wage and invisible exploited child workers in the overseas factories that churn out our clothes? Which of them seek justice for the black people killed by police in the US, or for families killed eating their breakfast, their house flattened thanks to mistaken intelligence reports?

And how can both ancient and modern gods inspire our own campaigning, struggles for justice, and efforts to survive in an increasingly hostile modern world? I’m wondering if there’s a god who has taken responsibility for the victims of disability hate crime, who I could call on when I’m going down the street on my scooter and being shouted at about benefit scrounging. Or if there are old gods of migrants helping desperate people in new migrant camps at Calais, guiding us to be their hands and feet as we search helplessly for ways to bring change when anything we could do would be illegal – and rewarding those who do find ways to help.

I’m thinking about which gods I could call on in these days of complex life in the city. Cities where the problems are the same as they ever were – hate, greed, exploitation, injustice, violence, poverty, wars for capital and resources. Are we so different from our ancestors in Roman cities and Celtic tribes? Are our gods so different?

Urban druid seeks new blessings from old gods.

Summer Harvests

It was Lammas at Druid Camp.

Alone, I would usually choose to celebrate Lughnasadh – the festival of Tailtu who created agriculture, of Lugh who prevents the death of the crops and brings the harvest. Summer games and competition and high-energy feats of challenge and pride, in honour of a proud, accomplished god.

But we were together, and it was Lammas.

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The wheat of the Lammas harvest that we were surrounded by at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

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Community-witnessed handfasting at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

Druidry is very much a community-based tradition. If alone I am a Gaelic polytheist with Brythonic leanings, together with these friends I am a Druid in a community of Druids. And only communities can reap a good harvest.

And I thought back to two weeks before, in Ireland with my mother and grandmother, spending most of our time with cousins and other family. I didn’t get much time with the land, with Beara. I did more important things. My harvest was community.

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The view across the hills and down to the sea from the vantage point of my family farmhouse, dating back to my great-grandparents and still at the centre of a small farm worked by my cousins. Beara Peninsula.

I return to posts from American Pagans about rejecting Lughnasadh (by which, in this case, the writer actually means Lammas) because “most Pagans live in the US” (EXCUSE ME?!), the assertion from some corners that modern polytheism is better than modern Paganism, and other culturally imperialist rubbish that starts to bring me down. British Paganism and British Druidry are a minority voice online. Most Americans don’t know about the beautifully non-hierarchical, deeply rooted-in-our-land, strongly community-focused practice that draws from many streams of modern Paganism and other spiritualities that is modern British druidry. The loud voices shouting about their recent conferences, and whose hotel was better, know nothing about the week we spent in a field, overlooking the river of Sabrina and the ancient barrows across the hill, surrounded by sheep, having to build our own community from the ground up (and make it accessible to as many people as possible!), where the success is all the sweeter for how every person contributes in their own way. They don’t know about the talent (that Eisteddfod!), the strength, the love, the mutual acceptance and help and support, the critical thought, and the plain hard work that can bring 200+ very diverse druids together in a field and have them, by the end, become a coherent spiritual community complete with regular dramatic rituals and dances and fires and drinking of mead and telling of stories. So many stories.

Flaming labyrinth at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

Flaming labyrinth at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

And that started me thinking about stories, and how the One Reality we all inhabit can be so very different from so many different perspectives. “We don’t need Lughnasadh,” announces someone who sees one side of the story. On the other side of the world, Lammas is the theme for 200 druids in a field surrounded by wheat. The sun at its height but showing the first signs of waning towards its long sleep. Our carefree summers making their way, like a slowly-winding labyrinth, towards Samhain and darkness and change. At the height of summer there is the seed of winter. At the height of life there is the seed of death. That’s what our harvest, here on this insignificant island where modern Paganism was birthed, is all about.

And that’s what our very different stories are all about, too. “I was right, you know, and he was wrong.” Except that right and wrong are forever relative. As a friend of mine said today: “We are all scumbags. We are all saints.” We may want to play the innocent hurt victim or the evil villain – depending on where our self-esteem might be today – but these are stereotypes, archetypes that aren’t useful beyond a certain point. I don’t worship the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, because these are useful illustrative archetypes, but not necessarily the stories by which I want to live my life. I am neither the villain nor the victim. I am neither the Druid nor the Christian. I am neither the daughter nor the wife. I am neither the sociologist nor the poet nor the seer nor the Gaelic polytheist nor the Pagan nor the wheelchair user nor the stranger nor the friend. I am all these things and more. Truth is bigger than we can imagine.

I am the universe emerging into consciousness, beginning to understand itself. (To slightly misquote Babylon 5.) And how much more am I than stereotypes and archetypes, as a result? I won’t reduce myself or others to one-dimensional pictures. I am stardust, as complex as the winds and as simple as the rain, the sacred legacy of my ancestors, the sacred ancestor of those who come after me.

This is the harvest that I reap.

Happy Lughnasadh. Happy Lammas. May summer and harvest festivals be celebrated forever, the wisdom of our forebears integrated into our new stories. We need the old and we need the new. We need all the sides of the story.

Hail, Lugh! Hail, ancestors!

New Blog: on Stories

wood-between-worlds-victoria-thorndaleI’m exploring the Sacred Story a lot in my spirituality at the moment. The power of stories and myths, both ancient and modern. Including the Christian Story. Since I suspect a lot of readers won’t want to be bothered with spirituality of that particular kind, I’m going to be talking about these things on a new blog. It’s called Lampposts and Other Light. Do feel free to follow me over there.

Druidry stuff will still go here – I’m not going away! :)

Wishing you peace and a good day, my friends.

Books To Read: A Druid’s Primer

druid's primer bookLuke Eastwood, ‘A Druid’s Primer’. Moon Books, 2012. ISBN 1846947642.

Eastwood has created a really interesting approach to modern druidry here. He’s done a lot of good research into histories of pagan practices, both ancient and modern. He then merges everything he’s learnt into a mix of existing and new philosophies and practices. This is a good book for anyone fairly new to druidry who wants to be better informed about some of the sources we draw on, as well as for more established druids who want to try a new approach to mixing the old and the new. It’s a very Irish-focused book, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (though you won’t be surprised to hear that that worked well for me), but he does draw on British and other myths and folklore too.

But the problem with separating books into ‘recommended’ and ‘not recommended’ categories is that most Pagan books have parts that I like and parts that I… don’t. This book is no exception. Overall, I really enjoyed it. But let’s get into the things that I didn’t enjoy.

I’m getting really tired of books that repeat myths that we know are simply not true.

First myth: Let’s address this once and for all, shall we? The snakes that St Patrick drove out of Ireland were NOT THE PAGANS. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone thought they were, until very recently. The first reference that I can find to this idea is in Marion Zimmer Bradley – from the 1980s. It’s a modern Pagan idea. And I really wish this particular myth would burn and die. Eastwood doesn’t endear himself to me by repeating it.

Second myth, more problematic as it runs through the whole book: Modern Druidry is not ancient. Eastwood has a good grasp on the history of modern druidry, and that of ancient druidry (as far as we know anything about it). His problem is mixing the two up, believing the commonly-held view that modern Druids are the direct inheritors of the wisdom and knowledge of ancient druidry.

And that’s not entirely his fault. This myth is everywhere, after all. OBOD has its own version, as do other druid orders. But it really is a myth. Modern druidry has very little to do with ancient druidry, other than basic inspiration – and everything to do with being a beautiful modern spirituality rooted in the old sacred earth that we could do worse than embracing as, well, modern.

So now that I’ve started with the things I disliked about the book, let’s get into the good stuff – and there was quite a lot of it.

For example, he has some great chapters that merge ancient myth with modern druid ideas, such as the light body exercise. He relates the modern sun and moon cycles celebrated by most modern druids, to ancient myths that contain echoes of cosmological and solar folklore – including the myth of the Dagda and Aengus at Bru na Boinne, and the story of the Mabon. The chapter on elements is largely based on the Western magical tradition, but mixes some Irish mythology in. His chapter on healing, with botanical information on herbs/plants and their mythical and folkloric uses, is a lovely addition that I didn’t expect to see, but enjoyed.

My favourite chapter was on Ogham. This was a surprise, as I’ve done a lot of work with Ogham, using both new and old ideas on it, and I find that a lot of what’s written on it can be fairly terrible. But Eastwood’s extensive research really comes into its own here. He combines medieval and neo-Pagan sources on Ogham into a really lovely set of interpretations on each of the feda. He could have written a whole book on Ogham – as he says, he’s only had time here to skim the surface of all the sources, myths and ideas relating to it. If he does write more on the subject, I’ll read it!

As long as you’re aware of the limitations, this is a really good book with some refreshing approaches to the modern druid way of drawing on the old while being rooted in the new. I’ll be using a lot of this book in my own practice.

My rating: 7/10.

Books To Read and Books To Avoid

So, I read a lot of books. Most, I do NOT read from cover to cover. I do a whole lot of ‘dipping in’. And while that’s great for a lot of books, it does mean that I sometimes miss out.

When I do read a book cover to cover, it tends to be either a book I really enjoy, or really dislike. The latter, because I usually want to see if it can be redeemed by the end, and I want to give it a chance. The former, because there *are* some really good Pagan books out there, even though you often have to sort through the dross to get to them.

I’m going to do a series on Books To Read and Books To Avoid. Hopefully, this will help me to read more books cover-to-cover and give me a reason to talk about them (and I love talking about books). You will probably not agree with everything I say about these books. You might think some books I put in one category should be in the other. Go for it – tell me in the comments about why you love a book I hate, or why you hate a book I love. Let’s debate it, and together maybe we can put together some crowdsourced thoughts about Pagan books that readers would find useful.

I suspect some of my choices will be very controversial. I often hate books that others love, and sometimes vice versa. But there are plenty of other reviews out there to read besides mine. If I un-recommend a book, read some other reviews and see whether you think you’d like it, on balance. But I don’t like tiptoeing around what I really think, in my reviews. So I’m going to get bolder about what I think.

I’ll be writing a review of Luke Eastwood’s ‘A Druid’s Primer’ later today. Stop back here later to find out what category I put it in. Cliffhanger…!