Brendan Myers (northwestpass) wrote,
Brendan Myers

The Clann-maker

This is only the “short form” of what I would like to say about some of the matters that arose in the comments section of my blog this week. As long as I continued to think about it, the logic of the problem led to wider and larger questions concerning community. Is the pagan movement a community? What would it mean if we are? What would it mean if we are not? As I see it, the question is not as simple as a matter of whether a public speaker or a ritual performer should be paid in money.

Certainly there are precedents in ancient societies for the idea that people who contribute to their communities in certain specialized ways should be supported by the community. One need look no further than the Druids for an example: they were fed, clothed, and housed at public expense. But we do not live in a pre-literate Iron-age society. In fact I have serious doubts about whether the pagan movement is a community. Chas Clifton observed that we are not a community because it is possible for someone to leave the movement with few difficulties and consequences. I find this argument very convincing.

However, I hope that the movement could become a community, a real and live one, in my lifetime. Here I shall propose for all of you one way which I think may make this happen.

In 2007 I was exposed to First Nations culture for the first time. I met and personally interviewed around 50 traditional Elders for a research project I was doing, under contract with the federal government. In each case whenever I sought the advice and knowledge of an Elder, there was a little ritual I had to do, involving the gift of a tobacco pouch and the offering of a question, in a particular and sincerely respectful way. It was impressed upon me that part of the reason for the offering of the tobacco is not to ‘pay’ the Elder. The Elder who agrees to receive the gift shows, by his act of receiving the gift, that he is committing himself to helping the applicant for a little while. The point to be emphasized here is that the formalities and protocols of the tobacco offering are much less important than the sincerity, the respectfulness, and the goodwill of the person who seeks the Elder’s advice. Therefore, if a person is able to prepare a proper tobacco pouch, he should do so; but if by some circumstance he cannot, then he must find another appropriate way to show respect. As an afterthought, I should mention that at the end of every one-on-one meeting I had with an Elder, I gave him a thank-you card which contained $200 cash.

I propose that the pagan movement should adopt a custom very much like the custom for Elders in First Nations communities, and use it for the people who work for the sake of creating, maintaining, and enriching the pagan movement. I also propose to coin a name for these people. I wish to name them because if we have a name for such people, it may be easier to identify them, and easier to know the nature and kind of respect such people deserve. Moreover, the naming is important because the creation of a shared and distinct vocabulary is a significant cohesive force in a community. Many pagan traditions already have words that designate what I have in mind, but I think that a word shared by the entire movement, in every country, will benefit us all. I suggest the word: Clann-maker.

In selecting this word, I’m thinking of various things. One is the idea in old Irish culture of the Aes Dana, the ‘men of arts’, referring to artists, and in particular poets, who had independent legal standing. It was a definite caste, like a ‘club’ that one could join after doing an apprenticeship and then earning some work experience and a decent reputation. The Aes Dana were the transmitters of culture, the people who ensured the maintenance, innovation, and flourishing of the things of culture that matter most, as well as the smooth handing-down of culture from one generation to the next. Yet I have used the word ‘clann’, the Irish word for a family, instead of the word for the arts, nor the word for teacher. This is order to emphasise that we are perhaps not yet a Clann – but perhaps some day we will be, by means of the help of these people. A Clann-maker is a person who is involved in any kind of activity that could transform a group of vaguely connected people with a few ideas and interests in common into a fully flourishing community.

I’m also thinking of the Prize Women of the Athapaskan-Dene people of northern Canada. The Prize Women were knowledge-holding women, possessors and teachers of the most important skills and information. The standards were high: if the entire society was destroyed for whatever reason, the Prize Women had to be able to build it up again. These women were valuable people, and there are accounts of raiding parties abducting the prize-women of neighbouring settlements in order to benefit from her knowledge.

My proposition for all of you is that we should use this word to signify people who work to benefit the pagans of their immediate area, in whatever way appears good to the people who are so benefited. It obviously includes what we have hitherto meant by ‘teacher’, ‘organiser’, and even ‘leader’, but I have in mind something a little wider.

Clann-maker can mean someone who organizes or helps to organize a local pride day, or pub moot, or public pagan temple, or camping festival, or the like. It can signify those who lead open teaching circles, in any tradition, or who regularly perform public or semi-public pagan rituals, be they seasonal, like the Sabbats, or who do rites of passage like handfastings, wiccanings, or first blood ceremonies. It can include people who possess significant cultural and traditional knowledge, whether practical, as in the case of blacksmiths and carpenters, or spiritual, as in the case of teachers, counselors, and perhaps even seers and prophets. It can include musicians, artists, painters, storytellers, and artistic performers of just about any kind. It can also signify those who work for the whole tribe of pagans everywhere, on a national or international scale, for instance by writing well respected books, or managing organisations with hundreds of members, or regularly publishing a journal or magazine, or some online electronic equivalent.

These people need not do this kind of work full time. Indeed I like the idea that these people have regular jobs. I think that Gus DiZerega is correct when he says the contemporary pagan movement should not have 'clergy', in the Judeo-Christian and political sense of the word. But I think the idea of a Clann-maker can serve the purpose: and serve it better.

It appears that there should be a few grounding principles that would likely be needed to make this tradition work well. Here are a few that I propose, loosely based on what I experienced among the First Nations.

• There must be no specification of tradition, background, initiatory lineage, or institutional membership. People and their relationships should come first here. Formalities should come later.

• A Clann-maker can be of almost any age, although a certain amount of mature life-experience would seem to be important.

• A Clann-maker should be treated with respect. Don't interrupt them when they speak; don't jump the queue in front of them; don't speak poorly about them behind their backs. Of course I don't mean that they should be treated with the deference of royalty. Nor do I mean that they cannot be the subject of some good-natured practical joking or healthy satire once in a while.

• And someone should lose their standing as a Clann-maker if they let it go to their head.

• No one should claim to be a Clann-maker by their own declaration. The name should be granted to them by the people who surround them, as a form of respect and thanks. This is to emphasise that the work should matter more than the reputation one earns by doing the work.

• Having said that, the aspiration to become a Clann-maker should be seen as a legitimate goal for people. I see nothing particularly 'ulterior' about the desire to earn the praise and gainful reputation that may come from being a Clann-maker. My main concern is that the gainful reputation, if it happens, should be earned, and that the evidence for why someone deserves to be called a Clann-maker should be available for everyone to see.

• Nor is anyone under an obligation to call someone a Clann-maker, just because other people do. It is up to everyone on their own, and with the advice of those whose opinions they respect, to call someone a Clannmaker, or not, as they judge appropriate. In this way, the scale of values may be flexible, meeting the needs of each local area.

• Clann-makers can specialize. They don’t have to know everything, nor do everything. And they can certainly benefit from and learn from each other.

• It should be possible for someone to give up being a Clann-maker if he or she wants to. I’m well aware of how much hard work can often be involved in community organizing or in teaching, and it should be possible for someone to take time off once in a while.

• Someone who seeks the advice, the help, or the services of a Clann-maker, for more than just a casual question or two in a setting like a pub, should present his or her request in a formal and recognisable way. The request should be presented with deep respect, and with gift-giving. I suggest that a gift of something that the Clann-maker can use as a ritual offering should accompany the request.

• Although it may seem contrived, it may be very helpful if the request for the Clann-maker’s help included a formal statement. You might offer a flask of mead to your local gothi, or a pouch of acorns and some uisce-beatha to your local druid, and say, “Dear (name), I seek your help as a Clann-maker...” In that way, that everyone knows exactly what is going on and there are no doubts that a sacred activity is in progress.

• The request should be presented in such a way that the Clann-maker can decline the request without making the petitioner feel snubbed or brushed off. After all, these are people, not gods, and if they have a headache that day, then they should be able to gently refuse the gift. The Clann-maker could suggest a future time, or another person better qualified to answer the petitioner’s question, or briefly explain the reason he is unable to help at that time.

• Acceptance of the gift would impose some moral obligations on the Clann-maker to teach and to share, to the best of his or her ability, and with the highest standards of honour and integrity in mind. But these direct obligations need not last longer than a few hours. The Clann-maker to seeker relationship need not be as life-long and intense as the teacher to student relationship. Similarly, acceptance of the gift imposes some moral obligation on the petitioner to listen well and to perhaps do a few things at the Clann-maker’s request.

• This also gives the Clann-maker some flexibility to decline requests for help from people who seem insufficiently respectful, or unlikely to listen, or for whatever reason unlikely to benefit from what the Clann-maker might say or do.

• Finally, if the petitioner feels that whatever service or help the Clann-maker provided was beneficial, and of excellent quality, she should offer another gift, perhaps a few hours or a few days later. I think the second gift can be a sum of money, the amount to be determined by local precedents, the petitioner’s ability to pay, and his or her assessment of how good a job the Clann-maker did. But I am also happy with the thought that it could be a material service too. Why not make dinner for her that night, or weed her garden, or even plant new flowers there for her?

Finally, I think it most important, above almost all other criteria, that the word Clann-maker should designate someone who does this kind of community-building work consistently, effectively, and in accord with the very best of virtues, over the space of several years.

I further propose that someone who does the work of a Clann-maker over the space of many decades, indeed over a whole lifetime, should be called an Elder. The respect due to the Elder should be a step or two above that which is offered the Clann-maker.

So there you have it.
As some of you may have already guessed, much of this text was copied from the book that I’m currently writing. It’s still in progress, so I will be reading all comments and criticisms carefully. If you like this idea, I will refine this into a proper essay, and get it published in PanGaia or some other appropriate organ.

Tags: community, personal thoughts, philosophy, proposal for change

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