When my Druid Grove prepared for the recent Beltane celebration, a discussion broke loose about the accessibility of sites where we typically hold or rituals.
We, the Mystic River Grove of the Most Ancient Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids as we call ourselves in high ritual, biting our tongues in our cheeks, have, even since before I joined, prided ourselves that we practically always have celebrated outdoors. There were, apparently, only less than a handful instances where it rained so hard that the celebration was moved indoors. Deep winter temperatures have not held us back from freezing through Alban Arthan and Imbolc celebrations.
With that outdoor focus comes, obviously — and for some regrettably — a choice of sites that are not only a (short) walk away from the nearest parking lot, but sometimes over what’s considered harsh terrain. I grew up in the Alps, mind you, so I have a little bit of a different approach to what’s “harsh terrain” than the folks from the flat marshlands in Massachusetts where I live now, but we’re not talking about perfectly horizontal, paved paths either.
And that, the distance and the terrain, is an obstacle for some of our Grove members suffering from anything between aging knees and auto-immune diseases rendering legs powerless.
What to do about that, I don’t know. Yet. Suggestions were made, and opinions about the suggestions were expressed. The discussion has been absolutely civil, which somewhat restores my faith in humanity, considering the rhetoric we are seeing more an more in social media and at public appearances of political and spiritual “leaders” if we really can call them such in all earnest. “Closer to the parking lots” was thrown in, “carrying folks in stretchers” came up — and immediately struck down by those actually affected — and I am sure some had “why not function halls” in mind as well.
And while this discussion is going on, the only thing I can make sure of is that I listen very closely. And then wait. And then listen more. And only then offer my thoughts to what people were saying. Opposite to reacting immediately without reflecting on anything that was said.
Let me give you an example. When said celebration was posted, folks asked if there was barrier-free access to the site. As one of the organizers of this particular event, I responded that unfortunately not really. There was even an extended walk, a pilgrimage in a sense, involved. But obviously that we would be happy to help people, who are not willing to participate, to get directly to the ritual site (much shorter distance).
I said willing.
I chose to say not willing. I did sit in front of my computer and thought, ‘is it not willing or is it not able?’ Do I, if I chose not able, say — or even pass judgement — on what these Grove members can or cannot do? Do I disempower them when I say not able? I chose not willing. To me, it sounded more empowering.
There was a response, from an affected person, that not able would have been the better choice.
What do I know? No, really, what do I know about being disabled, differently abled? Ygritte, the Wildling, would say that I know as much as Jon Snow. Which is nothing. (Game of Thrones enthusiasts know what I mean). But I really don’t know anything about actually not being able to walk even a short distance. Or to not to be able to walk, period. I can imagine a tiny fraction of it, can be compassionate, but I do not know. Maybe I will some day. Who other than the Gods can say? But right now I can only do one thing.
Listen……..And then listen more. Compassionately, unbiased, without my own agenda.
And then, after all the listening, and talking, and understanding, I — we as a community — must act. Listening, finding explanations, is one thing. Only when that is followed by action, can it manifest in a better situation for all involved.
Mind you, this listening-thing is not restricted to reaching ritual sites for Druid ceremonies by foot. We have a lot more listening to do. There are women, who feel disempowered because the very people they have elected to manage the framework of their life and prosperity turned their back on them for their own political agenda. There are people all over the world who have, themselves and their kids, witnessed horrors in comparison to which Game of Thrones appears like Disney’s Snow White. And these people are standing on countries’ borders (and the US is not the only one facing refugee crises) hoping to survive with calling nothing but their clothes on their backs their own. We have to listen to the folks who’s biological configuration does not follow patterns some people 2,000 years or more ago thought to be the expectation of their deities, which their wrote into some books and scrolls. And we have to listen to the people whose dreams of a decent life were shattered by never fulfilled promises of something trickling down from somewhere, eventually.
A lot of listening needs to be happening.
Can you imagine how quiet the world would be for once?
Christian Brunner, the Appletree Druid, is also the author “Mountain Magic”, a stroll through lore, myths, and magical practice in the Alps. Available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com