The ‘Shoulds’ and Individual Agency

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter on the ADF mailing lists about the ways we should live, the ways we should change, what we should do because the ‘Ancients’ did it; a lot of people are concerned about the right way of developing a hearth practice, the right way of meditating, even the right way of living.

I find it troubling because ADF is not a religion of dogma: yes, we care what you do in ritual, but we’re not going to tell you how to live. Granted, our principles should guide and shape your way of living, but we’re not going to tell you, “BECOME A VEGAN,” or “ALWAYS OPEN THE GATES AT YOUR HOME ALTAR”.

The clinging to an imagined ancient way of life troubles me, too, and for almost the same reason. Even if ‘the Ancients’ had a uniform lifestyle and religious practice (which they didn’t), they still lived in a completely different world than we do. They ate fruit and meat they could gather and hunt, yes, but they did that because they had to. And they offered blood sacrifice because, well, that’s what they did.

But we don’t have to do either of those things. We have the luxury of eating December clementines shipped from tropical climes. We have the luxury of frozen, pre-prepared meats. We have the luxury of offering expensive fermented beverages instead of blood. Our world is not the world our paleopagan ancestors lived in.

My umpteenth-great-grandmother couldn’t vote. She couldn’t choose to become a fighter pilot. She couldn’t make choices about her world beyond the scope of her own home. She might have died in childbirth, or of appendicitis, or she might have shared my congenital heart condition and died at 27 because she didn’t have the option of life-saving surgery. And her umpteenth-great-grandmother couldn’t even conceive of things like voting, rights, or even luxury.

We have to live in our own world.

Yes, it’s right and pious to want to offer traditional items, but the fact is, we know more now than our ancestors ever did. They would, I think, want us to make safe, responsible choices for ourselves and for our earth.

It all boils down to those words: safe, responsible, and choice.

We need to be safe. We need to keep our planet safe. If that means not offering our own blood without a finger stick or the means some women have, then don’t do it. Don’t go slicing your palm open with a kitchen knife and risking infection and injury. If safe actions mean offering polished rocks or carved wood to the well instead of pollutive silver, then change your behavior. Don’t mindlessly stick to tradition, even when tradition can hurt you.

We need to be responsible. Only we can develop our home practice. Only we can do the work and create relationships with our patrons. Only we make the necessary life-changes and start trying to preserve our Mother Earth. Saying, “Well, how do you do it?” or “How did the Ancients do it?” is declining to take responsibility for your actions. You are giving up your agency in favor of the choices of someone who may not know better.

Finally, you have to choose to pursue right action. You must commit to doing the work, to spending the extra time, to trusting your own educated instincts. Refusing to make your own choices is, again, irresponsible. You must value your own knowledge, experience, and intuition, and you must decide to make your own choices.

The beauty of druidry is that it values our individual agency. By venerating the ancestors, we are honoring the spark which makes us all human, that gives us the knowledge that we must choose responsibly and safely. We live in a different age, now, and our agency comes with a lot more duties: and most of those duties involve making the right, sustainable, safe choices.

Please don’t throw away your agency. It’s the most valuable thing you have. Only you can use it, and it’s the driving force that will put you on a path toward better self-knowledge and a better understanding of your religion.

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