MIAMI (TWH) – One of the largest Druid organizations, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) recently elected its officers. ADF members voted for the Archdruid among other positions. Rev. Melissa Ashton and Rev. Jean Pagano (Drum) ran for that position and the winner will serve for the next three years.
Pagano, the current Archdruid, was re-elected. Ashton currently serves as Secretary of the Clergy Council and the Bard Laurate. She was also ADF’s first Master Bard. The Wild Hunt spoke via email with Ashton and Pagano.
Ashton’s campaign marked the second time that a woman ran for Archdruid. More than 15 years ago, Elizabeth McDonald had run for Archdruid.
ADF differs somewhat from many Pagan groups in its scope and its terminology. It has a strong – even central – scholarly component. The organization notes on it’s website that “ADF is working to combine in-depth scholarship with the inspiration of artistry and spiritual practice to create a powerful modern Paganism. We’re researching and interpreting sound modern scholarship (rather than romantic fantasies) about the ancient Indo-European Pagans — the Celts, Norse, Slavs, Balts, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Vedics, and others. Upon these cultural foundations we are working to build a religion that these ancient people would appreciate and understand yet one which has depth and power for modern people.“
ADF has an international membership from all contents except only Antarctica. Its website is trilingual (English, German, and Portuguese). Councils refer to administrative structures; whereas Groves function as the local spiritual group.
Role of the Archdruid
According to Pagano, the Archdruid has three main roles. First, the Archdruid chairs the Board of Directors also known as The Mother Grove. Eight other people serve on the Board. It functions much like the board of directors of any other non-profit.
Second, the Archdruid heads the Clergy Council. They lead that Council in ”determining, discussing, and implementing changes to our liturgy and to our practice.”
Third, the Archdruid is the public face of ADF. The Archdruid meets and speaks with ADF members, the media, and the general public.
In March of 1984, Pagano joined ADF as a solitary. He remained a solitary until the early 2000s. He has since returned to a solitary practice. Pagano knows that solitaries can easily end up feeling ”lonely and disconnected.”
Pagano estimated that about 55% of ADF members have a solitary practice. Some solitaries choose a solitary practices. Geographic isolation forces some people to become solitaries. Any ADF member in Africa, Asia, or South America will have to have a solitary practice as those areas lack groves.
Pagano stressed that having a solitary practice is no barrier to leadership. The Archdruid, the Chief of the Council of Regional Druids, the ADF Administrator, and the Public Relations Officer, all have a solitary practice.
Ashton has considered herself Pagan for the last 20 years. In the past she was a Dianic Witch and then became a solitary. She joined ADF in 2008 when she grew ”tired of celebrating the high days on my own.” Ashton continued, ”Fellowship is what drew me to ADF, and it is for the fellowship that I have dedicated my life to service as a priest.”
Ashton did not seek to become Archdruid. Unbeknownst to her, someone on the Council of Senior Druids had nominated her. Someone else then seconded her nomination. She only found out when people from that Council asked her if she would run. Consistent with her personality, Ashton ran a low-key campaign. She said, ”I decided not to do much campaigning, because that’s not really who I am — which is probably why I lost!”
Female Leadership and Gender Barriers
Aston did encounter some attempts at marginalization. She said, that some people “dismissed me because I am part of the ‘young guard’ and ‘not a good spiritual leader.’ I was quite shocked to hear that last one. I suppose those who feel that way just don’t know me or see the work I’m doing.” She continued, ”But you can’t let those sorts of comments hold you back, you know?” Despite these attempt, she formed a strong sense of connection with members.
Ashton estimated that females staff over 60% of ADF’s officers. When it comes to the Archdruid role, Ashton feels that ”ADF has a glass ceiling.”
In discussing barriers against women, Ashton referred to discussions within the Chenille Canopy. Women created the Canopy as ”the unofficial group for people-who-identify-as-women in ADF.” This group started years ago to support women in ADF to achieve their leadership goals. She felt the Canopy had helped to motivate her to complete the ADF’s clergy training program.
Ashton, who has a degree in nonprofit management, felt that ADF fared no differently than other similar nonprofit organizations. She said that women were passed over because, ”We have jobs that take too much time, or because we have kids that take too much time, or because they are worried, we’ll be too emotional.” She did think that ADF had ”done a poor job” of developing ways to bring non-males into leadership roles.
Ashton identified key steps to lessen gender barriers. She said, ”If you’re of the dominant gender, or you’ve held office before, get out of their way. If you really want to break the glass ceiling and make room for other genders to succeed, you have to create space for them. I have some male allies that have made all the difference in the world to my success. Rev. Robb Lewis declined his nomination to make room for me to run.”
Ashton urged other Pagan women to ”Do it. Seriously. Do it, and if you fail, learn, and do it again.” She felt that respect of women among Pagans tended to be somewhat superficial. She said, ”Sometimes, under the façade, the rumor mill is working overtime to tear the foundation out from underneath them. Integrity in relationships involves being loyal to the absent. Think about the words you use to describe people when they are not around.”
Future trends in ADF
Looking ahead to ADF’s future, Pagano outlined seven main goals. First continue developing and implementing Consent Culture in ADF. Second, ADF is conducting a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threat analysis. This tool should provide valuable information. Third, improve and update the website. Fourth, develop effective process documentation that would standardize internal administrative processes.
Fifth, improve member communication, particularly with solitaries. Pagano mentioned an internal ADF newsletter. The new Secretary, Victoria Selnes, will be taking the lead on this newsletter. Sixth, conduct an organizational review. Seventh, improve educational materials.
Pagano stressed his commitment to pushing out Consent Culture training within ADF. Last year, Kirk Thomas, Pagano, and ADF funded a Consent Culture Training through Cherry Hill Seminary. The following ADF officers took part in that training: ADF’s Board of Directors, the Clergy Council, Regional Druids, and many Senior Druids and grove organizers. Eventually, Pagano would like to have an on-demand Consent Culture course available for all ADF members.