I wrote the following as a post to the AODA email group as a response to a question posted by a nonmember (and, incidentally, a good friend) asking “why should I join?”, but didn’t post it because others answered the question better and more succintly. There was no point posting it there but there is some point to posting it here, since it’s relevant to what I’m doing.
A few weeks back, I went to an informal pub get-together for those interested in “Celtic spirituality.” Most of the attendees were Druids of one flavor or another, with a few Wiccans sprinkled in. All these people were strangers to me. When asked about my path, I said “Oh, I’m with the AODA.” Most of the people there knew what I was talking about. Some didn’t – I clarified, “John Michael Greer’s group.” That cleared it up for all but one, so I gave him a little spiel about the AODA and a reference to the website. That did it for an introduction – we were all free to go on talking about what we had gotten together to talk about, I met some interesting people and learned a few things, and it was all good.
AODA membership gave me a convenient shorthand for introducing myself – of course my group affiliation does not give the entire picture of who I am and what I do, but it’s good enough to go on with. I suppose as a non-member I could have said, “Well, what I practice and value is the same as the AODA” and gotten the same result, but that feels dishonest to me – is it really the same if I’m not a member? After all, if I’m not supporting the group through membership then I’m just exploiting something that I haven’t done anything to support, which goes against those values. It’s one thing to explore the teachings and the community as a preliminary to joining, as I understand Nate to be doing – this seems totally legitimate. It’s quite another to openly identify with a group, as I did in my example – I like being able to do that and I couldn’t do so honestly without membership.
I want to establish a grove someday. I could do this without membership, and have it be my own thing and set myself up as a grand poobah. I could create my own rituals, prepare my own teaching materials, set up my own website, do my own recruiting – and to a certain extent I will have to do all of this anyway. I’m perfectly capable of it. The AODA, though, already has done lots of this work for me, including having an effective archdruid that has already taken on the demanding role of grand poobah, a role I have never aspired to. The AODA gives me an outline for teaching, a ritual format, guiding principles, an online community, initiation ceremonies, a textbook, support and guidance from elders – all for what amounts to a bargain price. When establishing my grove, I will also be able to say, “This is an AODA grove, here’s what we’re about” and have minimal confusion about the goals, values and practices of the group. By insisting that grove members also be AODA members, I know that they know what they are taking on and have already committed to a particular path of study and practice.
Group membership and participation in a degree system also give me credentials. Some dismiss these as “just a piece of paper,” but that piece of paper is important to me – it’s a record of my path so far and a map of where I want to go. Recognition from the Grand Grove gives me some authority and assurance to others that I know what I’m talking about. Some could argue that this isn’t important as long as I really do know my stuff, but how are other people to know this? Anyone who has taught a class will also understand the need to establish authority, and credentials are a very effective first step for doing so. With credentials, I start off from a position of authority, and it’s mine to lose from there if I do so; I don’t have to build it up from scratch.
I am a member, most simply, because I want to support this group. I like it and admire what it’s doing, and want to see it grow. It can’t do that without members, so here I am. I could get some of the spiritual benefits, though not all, without membership. I want more, though – I want John Michael, and any other members so inclined, to write more books, I want to see AODA gatherings and groves around the country, I want to see our online forum have hundreds of members (it’s here, by the way: http://forum.cyberdragons.org/aoda/) and host lively discussions – I want all this to happen, and it won’t without an active and involved membership.