On the Value of Democracy

June 18, 2009 at 11:55 pm 2 comments

Democracy, the revolutionary idea of choosing ones’ own leaders as a community, originated in polytheistic societies. The most obvious of course being Athens, Greece but Iceland had the Althing, and the Founding Fathers of the United States took inspiration from the Iroquois Confederacy in forming a system of government and writing the Constitution. Now, technically, democracy refers to directly electing leaders, and representative democracy is called a republic.

I think democracy needs to be reaffirmed as a modern Pagan value. Both as citizens of countries who happen to be Pagan, and as a way of governing Pagan organizations. From observing groups in our community I’ve seen the pros and cons of different forms of leadership.

In Traditional Wiccan covens, and other initiatory systems, members rise in rank and power with time, effort and study. This system insures that the coven is led by a cadre of experienced elders who can impart the traditional knowledge to the next generation of seekers. There is value to be found in this kind of system, there is a lot of potential for abuse in it. While certainly there are many hierarchical groups which are quite ethical, they need to tread carefully.

For other examples among Druids- both OBOD and AODA are run by leaders, a Chosen Chief and Arch Druid respectively who hold these positions for life, barring resignation. These leaders are at high danger of burnout, and how can they be answerable to their membership if they keep their position, no matter what? Hence why, even though I think these groups have some interesting ideas I could learn from, I don’t think I would join them.

One of the things that appealed to me about ADF was that it is a democratically run organization. Not completely so- the Clergy Council is not elected. But the Mother Grove (Board of Directors) which I’m on is, including the Arch-Druid (President). There is also a Council of Lore made up of officials elected by Guilds, and a Council of Regional Druids who are elected by their own regions- rather like the House of Representatives.

That said, democracy does have its pitfalls. Sometimes people run for office for the wrong reasons. Granted, people may try to get their Third Degree for the wrong reasons too. In ADF, we sometimes have trouble finding enough people to run for all the leadership positions we have!

To avoid a “tyranny of the majority” a mechanism needs to be build in to a groups’ by-laws so that the minority is protected in some way. In ADF, one of the ways we protect the minority is by having a Members’ Advocate who can hear individuals’ concerns and take them to the Mother Grove.

In a smaller group, some form of consensus-based decision-making could work, though it seems impractical in a larger group. But there are Friends (Quaker) Conferences who make decisions this way from what I understand!

Post for International Pagan Values Month

Entry filed under: Ethics, Pagan Communities, Politics/Culture. Tags: , , .

Sources of Values Hittin’ the Road

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yewtree  |  June 19, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I completely agree with you. I dislike unaccountable and undemocratic groups. Our coven is democratic.

  • 2. lightbearerusa  |  February 26, 2012 at 10:51 am

    I agree and enjoyed this article. Over the years, I have experienced many pagan conservatives and fundamentalists and would like to add that in addition to democracy being an essential element of polytheistic thought, that sacred plant knowledge was also a highly significant and crucial element in Pagan ideology and practice, a knowledge I find to be aggressively rejected in modern pagan circles in the most orthodox manner.


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