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It has come to my attention that, as with almost any religion, charity, or philosophy, eventually you will get a few bad-eggs that are going to use a good thing as a front for some type of scam or hurtful purpose.
So I think the new-comer to Reformed Druidism should be aware of what are the usual clues for detecting, shall we say, unsavory practices in a group they decide to join. Please take care to note who is running things and HOW they operate.
Perhaps intentionally, the RDNA is an unusually dis-organized group on the national level, with a very strong tradition of autonomy for groves and independent Druids. A regretful consequence of this freedom, is that there seem to be few practical group-wide steps that Reformed Druids can invoke on unsavory groves; besides passing notices, sharing complaints, informing "ensnared" members of thier rights, and avoiding those folk we dislike or distrust. Most other modern Druid groups, like ADF, Keltria or OBOD were created with some type of conflict resolution mechanism on a centralized level.
Those group-wide limits are not intended as condoning bad practices, and individuals or groves can make their own policies. Although groves differ widely, they are simple set-ups with colorful local customs and often few set rules as I mention in my slightly flippant article, "less is more"
Some groves you'll find are sloppy or poorly managed, but you may run across a grove operating rather inappropriately, and we'd really like to know about it. However, there is no formal judicial means to address grievances on a national level, although you can find sympathetic ears and varying opinions from numerous established groves on the RDNAtalk conference on http://groups.yahoo.com.
It takes a few minutes to register into the RDNAtalk conference below, anonymously if you'd like, and you'll certainly get some advice there and the company will be comforting. (I'd recommend "daily digest" setting or "no e-mail" and check the posts online, as there is a lot of activity.)
A group of 356 Reformed Druids post & recieve mail daily on their experiences, questions & thoughts. 30 posts/day.
Some other e-mail addresses you might want to use:
on the West Coast
firstname.lastname@example.org on the East Coast
Either of those two folks are unofficially there to advise, and have a heap of contacts and experience in what a "standard" grove usually does and does not do. If you have any concern about any threat or safety, you should contact your local authorities first.
The following site is very informative on cults: http://www.religioustolerance.org/cultmenu.htm
The following lengthy article and checklist is by a Reformed Druid, Isaac Bonewits. It has proven useful as a simple guide for self-rating a local group that you join, and provoke some reflection. The higher the score you chart for a group, compared to other religions in your region or familiarity, the more cause for concern; although a very highscore in just one area might be a tip-off of a problem.
For example, in Item #1 below, the lack of institutionalized rights in the RDNA, allows for potential mini-dictators or hurtful practices to develop in a grove. This has rarely happened, as the rather fierce anti-dogmatic and rebellious nature of most Reformed Druids and thier writings tends to minimize tolerance this kind of abuse by leaders.
If you cannot resolve conflicting interests or correct abuses in your grove, then you should consider leaving that grove and bringing people out with you and form your own grove with better rules for your needs.
When a less-than-desirable leader or group is questioned or challenged, they may pull several tactics rather than forthrightly address, clarify or fix a problem. Most of these methods are rather unethical, but also might be used mistakenly by an inexperienced leader, and might be correctable. They are not just applicable to groups within Reformed Druidism, but might also be revealing about various clubs or organizations you belong to.
Only you can be certain of local conditions, and you must use your own common sense, especially if you sense some danger involved. This is just my casual advice and personal feelings.
1. Ridicule and Harrassment.
I understand that sometimes a teacher may have to cajole or good heartedly poke fun at a student to coax them into trying harder and getting past an perception barrier; but comments aimed at demeaning or breaking down their will are unacceptable to me. Pestering recalcitrant members, such as calling at work, incessant e-mail or telephoning, or following them is usually called harassment or stalking in most states and it is a criminal offense. It has been regretfully shown in both cults (and the equally disturbing methods of "deprogrammers") that the average person is only prepared to fend off three rebukes; so I'd expect a Reformed Druid should be prepared to steel themselves for far more that that.
2. Threats or bribes.
If you can't convince me of the soundness of your views and their applicability to me by reason, rational debate or clear evidence, then using violence or bribes merely shows that you are the one who is probably wrong. I'd report threats to the law enforcement authorities and would leave such a dangerous group, encouraging others to do likewise. Claims of "hellfire", "damnation", spiritual pollution, or barring from afterlife, could be construed as threats in certain situations.
3. "God told me so."
That's nice, I'll await his/her direct message to me, to confirm that matter. Reformed Druids may claim that they are inspired sometimes, but most seem very hesitant to insist that others believe another's personal revelations. Most folk seem to require more rational evidence or reasoning, rather than a blind reliance on an unverifiable source.
4. "It's in the scriptures."
Like point three, many Reformed Druids are reluctant to believe something just because it was written down and adopted by another group of people. It might be interesting, but we're interested in the writings of many faiths. There are no official or preferred scriptures. We have no official scriptures in the Reform, and don't intend on having any. We have writings, but most Reformed Druids are very careful to claim that they are espousing their personal view on matters they discuss. Each is weighed individually upon their merits by each reader.
5. "We decided that already."
You may have, but I disagree with this decision for reasons of x, y & z. Could we re-open that custom, tradition, rule or law for possible revision and a new referendum or vote at an upcoming meeting? I have suggestions of a, b & c as an alternative. If this is indeed the group preference, you should be confident that it will pass again.
6. "I'm the most qualified to lead."
You may have been so at the time of your election, but it may be time for rotation of leadership or the training or delegation of power to other members. Mr. A, B & C have shown interest in taking on great responsibility, and they would possibly like some mentoring, but also wish the opportunity to lead more activities. There is an unspoken assumption that the number of consecutive terms implies greater achievement by a leader, but giving the helm to someone else who has the group confidence is a great achievement too. Make more leaders rather than followers.
7. "I alone have secret knowledge."
I see. I understand that some personal communications with members might be qualified by clergy-confidentiality, and that some traditions have some initiation elements that are revealed in stages. However, I feel sorely left out and do not understand the references and in-jokes that are being made. What are the steps that I must take to also learn this knowledge that you keep? Must it truly be kept secret, or is that status merely a ploy to prop up a limited pool of people to fill leadership positions?
8. "This is how the ancient Druids did it."
But we are not ancient Druids, we are Reformed Druids. Just as Reformed Jews do not carry out every practice that Orthodox Jews practice, so we Reformed Druids have to interpret and choose which ones are appropriate and useful for the modern era. I will grant that if the Ancient Druids did do it, it will likely be one of the first traditions that we will consider for adopting. However, much of what the ancient Druids did has been lost or forgotten or misplaced; much of what we do know is scanty, piecework or a remnant collected in the middle ages long after important social changes in Celtic countries, and filtered by various monks and oral transmission. There are also traditions by many other peoples who have revered the earth that we should examine. Some things are no longer appropriate for our modern sensibilities.
9. "Everybody in Reformed Druidry does it this way."
I believe there is very little that is done the same way by all Reformed Druids. Each Grove and individual may have differing ways that meet their needs and desires. What's to say that we may not go down a new road or explore a new tradition or remove one that no longer assists us? Passing on lore is one thing, but one need not also follow everything one has learned, it may again be applicable at a future date, but it does not seem right at this moment.
10. "More people agree with me than with you."
I care not if the entire world disagrees with me, I have a right to my opinion. I feel a responsibility to voice my concerns and objections. If this Grove is a democracy, I will tend to follow the decisions of the group on stylistic issues so far as they do not unfairly impinge on my personal core rights. If the group decides on a policy or rule that I cannot abide by, then I may choose to leave and invite similar-thinking people to join with me.
11. "Without me you can't have a service."
Similar to #6 or #7. We know longer choose to have you as our leader, but respect your title and ask you to choose a successor from among us to lead future services. If you will not do so, we will seek elsewhere for the necessary ordinations. Perhaps in the meantime we will jury-rig a temporary service that does not need your skills or authority. No leader is indispensable, not matter how valued or venerable. When a great tree falls in the forest, new trees will get more sun, grow, and fill the canopy.
12. "You're new here and just don't understand."
Then tell me what the issues are, how they were derived and the reasons for them. I should not be dismissed merely on seniority. I am rational and can be convinced if I'm wrong. Be more patient with me. If others don't know, then invite them also to attend and learn with me at a reasonably soon time, for this issue is very important for me. There are no stupid questions.
13. Keeping you too busy.
This has been done for ages. I feel that I have been assigned an unfair burden of the chores or given un-necessary work merely to keep me too busy to consider the ramifications of recent issues or organize opposition. Perhaps you do not realize the extent of the responsibilities in my personal life. Perhaps the size of the workload is purposely too great to discredit me when I inevitably fail to accomplish it. I wish to contribute to the Grove's activities, but I need more time to rest and recuperate and reflect. I must refuse to do x, y, and z. I may assist the Grove in less time/resource demanding ways by my advice and wisdom.
14. Mobilizing against a large enemy
Similar to #13. When a president has a troubled domestic situation, rather than sensibly deal with that as early as possible, it often seems more convenient to rally the group against an assigned enemy. People tend to stick together better when they feel besieged or threatened, but this is only a temporary fix. Constantly finding new threats, more entangling campaigns and new causes can eventually burn-out and demoralize a group, which may refocus on a domestic issue with greater severity afterwards. Our usual goal is to know the world better, not necessarily to completely change it to our preferences.
15. Lying, confusing and distracting.
Although some truths are difficult to swallow, and some mysteries difficult to penetrate, I prefer to be spoken to honestly and straight-forwardly. If you don't know or can't explain something, then just say so, don't just make up an answer to satisfy me if it will lead me astray later on. I do not expect you to be an all knowing guru. Admitting that we are indeed wrong is also stating that we are wiser today than we were yesterday.
16. "You'll lose your friends if you misbehave."
This could be interpreted as a threat to quell reasonable dissent. If my manners have been inappropriate then I might need to amend them, but if my issue is valid then I demand a timely and appropriate hearing. If the group tires of my company and requests me to leave, I will go my own way rather than stultify under unethical dynamics. I can find enlightenment, good company and awareness in many formats besides this group. If they are truly my friends, they will understand this and not hold it against me.
17. Falsifying elections.
Each Grove has its own system of voting and the necessary quorums, % of voters, timing of elections, etc. If I doubt the accuracy of the count or the result, then I would like to have a method that respects the confidentiality, but is more verifiable. If the Grove will not abide by a fair voting system, then I may wish to leave and take so-minded folks with me.
18. Setting you up for a fall.
Like #13, some leaders, fearing a rising talented & good-natured rival may assign you an impossible task, produce false evidence against you or trump up a minor misdemeanor against you. I find this to be the hardest to deal with. If increased abilities of some members disturbs them, then that leader is power-hungry and too insecure to be a good leader.
19. Hold secret meetings to deal with you.
Similar to #18. If you have a valid complaint of a non-personal nature with me, tell me in front of the group so that I may directly address the charges and call witnesses and present evidence in my defense.
20. Blacklist you.
If a leader goes around to other groups and says false or wrong things about me, it is more shameful for them than it is for me. It might be difficult to fight this back-alley politicking. I have the self confidence in my worth and my position on the issues, and I will present my side of the story to other groups, and ask them to judge me on what they see and observe rather than what they have heard.
Some cults have prominent leaders who are too rarified or special to be contacted by ordinary members. Separation implies that they are above mere politics and mundane motivations. All contact with them is mediated by select individuals. When this happens, even if the leader is a good person, the intermediaries may become a problem. In some cases, the leader may not even exist, as in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. While I can understand some folks being busy, having a shadowy leader is not acceptable to me.