Ethical Dilemmas and a Suggested Code of Conduct for Pagan Events…

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about our environmental impact. Although we live pretty low down on the food chain and have few appliances, live in a recycled home and don’t fly, we still cause more harm than we’d like.

Our biggest impact is our car, we drive to attend events and gigs, and Kate also drives to work 3 days a week. Because of the amount of stuff we have to move we have a fairly large diesel car-van (a fiat Doblo) which whilst efficient for a car of its size still burns more fuel than we’d like. To be honest, in a perfect world we’d like to burn no fossil fuel at all.

So we are trying to make plans to go car free. This will probably reduce the type of things we can do, but we’ll feel better about it. We have bicycles for short journeys, although the country lanes around here are made dangerous by cars, and we will be risking our lives, though hopefully the power of Hi-Visibilty Jackets will protect us! The car and fuel is one of our major outgoings too, so having a car just to get to events which you have to work at to pay for the car is a bit self defeating anyhow…

Further on this topic Corwen got into a bit of a discussion with someone on facebook who is planning to fly from Australia to the UK to attend a Druid event. We both think this is a startling example of cognitive dissonance, to travel in the most environmentally damaging way possible to a Druid event, but exactly how damaging is it?

We did some maths. Imagine a camp for 70 people (hypothetically an ‘average’ Pagan camp). Lets say each of those people on average drives 70 miles round trip to get to camp. The camp’s CO2 emissions from transport will be around 800kg of CO2. If a single person flies across the Atlantic, even from this side of the States, then their flight more than doubles the CO2 impact of the whole gathering.

What makes us feel worse is that we support these events and thus contribute to their impact, not only by driving ourselves, but by playing and running workshops we encourage others to come. Mostly that travel has a negligible impact but if people are increasingly flying to these events, the Pagan Camp scene’s environmental impact could double or triple easily without anyone noticing.

Going back to this particular Druid camp, around 400 people go, and they travel further because it is a bigger event, lets say 100 miles each. The one chap flying equals the travel impact of more than 150 of his fellow campers. If three people fly from Australia then this more than equals the driving of the other 397 people. Those three flyers more than double the emissions of the whole camp.

So here’s an idea, if we Pagans really care about the planet, could we at least devise a voluntary code of conduct for events which encourages good practice, both ethical and environmental? Here are some suggestions:

Ethical Investing
Events handle large amounts of cash, and most banks have no ethical policy. Whilst the ticket money is sloshing about waiting to be spent it may well be funding factory farming, GM crops, the arms industry, deforestation etc etc. Events should show that they try to handle their finances in an ethical way, using where possible financial institutions that have an ethical policy, such as the Cooperative Bank or Triodos. Even an event with 50 tickets at £30 has a turnover of £1,500, so it’s worth consideration, even for smaller gatherings.

Food Ethics
Event catering has a big impact. Could event organisers do more to endeavour to make sure that food sold is sourced as ethically (with as little environmental impact and as little animal cruelty) as possible? The easiest way to do this is to serve vegetarian food locally sourced.  And what about minimising waste food, while we’re at it, and composting?

Transport and CO2
Events could attempt to both quantify and mitigate the environmental damage they cause. This means both offsetting the CO2 produced (hopefully in some physical collective way rather than just paying an offsetting company- an industry which is dodgy to the extreme), and by making concrete attempts to reduce the CO2 emitted. Discouraging people travelling by air might be a start, if we set up an event we have to be responsible for the damage caused and try to minimise it. Providing networking opportunities for car sharing, publicising public transport options and making arrangements for collecting people from nearby public transport nodes would also be good.

All this can be summed up in a sentence:

This event offsets its carbon footprint whilst seeking to reduce it, handles its financial assets responsibly and sources foodstuffs as ethically as possible.

We’ll be making some attempt to publicise these ideas over the next few months, maybe through an article or two. I’d like to see all events that call themselves Pagan beginning to address these issues. Ultimately I’d like to only support events that signed up to such a pledge, and I hope other environmentally conscious Pagans would do the same.

What do you think? Any other areas you’d like to see covered by a voluntary ethical policy for the camp scene?

  1. you may think I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

  2. sana :) said:

    Hi guys, I so agree and I think you are brave wonderful role models. I went to a campsite in Devon regularly for 13 and to start with I was horrified by the ‘environmental impact’. Within 2 years I initiated recycling and everyone brought their own cutlery and crockery and we had ‘washing up posts’ and compost loos and wash rooms. It was great.

    Another annoying thing is when people travel miles to go to a yoga retreat or to get enlightenment. BUT actually something good does emerge from these gatherings even if the cost to the earth is high. So although I lean towards your way of thinking I also understand that peoples’ intention to travel far to go to these things is usually good. What they could do is travel, as you suggest, in different ways and try as much to minimise their footprint. Perhaps these organisations should be encouraging this!!!!!! Whatever we do, even with information technology (renewing stuff all the time) we have an impact and the more we role model a less hazardous route for the earth, the better. We use a car but we plan journeys carefully to maximise use and minimise impact. There is so much to be done!

  3. Bruce Denney said:


    When think even more about things then things do not seem so bad and if you think enough about everything you will be paralysed by the implications or potential implications of what you are / might be doing.

    On the flying front well choosing to fly to the other side of the world for anything makes no sense to some people and a lot of sense to others. There are some people who don’t worry about flying, don’t worry about driving, eating meat, being on a non green electricity tariff and a lot more.

    Diversity is our strength, even though we can’t always appreciate the choices other people make, they are not our choices to make.

    The “cost” of a trip to Aus is the same as the “saving” from 20 years of being vegan.

    I have come to the conclusion (for me) that life is too short to worry about everything, rather than worrying about it all, it is important that I am heading in the right direction. It is important that other people have different views and that they express them, be they the vegan-nazi-police, tree-huggers our governement, big business or and evil dictator. We are all part of the great diversity that nature creates.

  4. Keechy said:

    Someone might choose to fly to the UK for one meeting, but have chosen not to have children. We can’t really judge a person’s footprint by one flight that could be the trip of a lifetime, which they may also have paid to offset. As someone who lives in a very isolated part of the world, I think it is a little easy to condemn someone for flying to meet other like-minded pagans, but what if that one person has their eyes opened and goes back and does amazing things in their home area? I have no problem with trying to make camps and money as clean as possible, but being judgey about some poor bugger from the sticks who just wants to get into a big group of pagans for once is a bit harsh. Perhaps it is a bit of “locality privilege”? Just made that up. 🙂

  5. Ray Johns said:

    Totally agree with you Corwen.Always thought it was a bit like driving to a gym to go for a run.Not got a local pagan event? Organise one.Spread the word.Surely its a personal experience anyway? Not about being ‘seen in the right place’ or bragging rights about ‘where you’ve been’.Well said.

  6. Thank you all for your comments.

    Hi Keechy, in a sense I agree with you. I’ve had amazing transformational experiences at Pagan events, especially the first ones I went to years ago, and I wouldn’t want to deny anyone that. However it is how common flying to these things has become that flags this up as a problem for me. Some of the events I go to have multiple attendees who have arrived by air and have between them increased the footprint of the event many times over. If it was one person coming once maybe it wouldn’t be an issue, but they go home, say what a great time they’ve had, and before you know it there are several long distance people coming every year.

    Ray, I am with you on your idea of starting a group/event if there isn’t one near you. There are two issues though, firstly Pagans abroad often feel a real longing to come to the UK which attracts them here, and almost fetishises the UK pagan scene and UK Pagan ‘celebrities’ for them. This needs to be overcome, people must work on developing their own local traditions!

    Secondly it is hard to start up an event from scratch without any knowledge of the culture that events carry with them. Its the little in jokes and ways of doing things that make events unique and it is hard to start something from scratch without any of those ideas to go on. People in the Pagan Community could do more to facilitate others abroad setting up camps by providing them with information, ideas and support. I’d love to see a Pagan Camp Wiki to share ideas.

    • Keechy said:

      You are right there, Corwen. I, for instance, will probably never experience a Grove Ceremony done by more than me and my hubby unless we drive or fly a long distance. Of course there is value in doing it alone or with one other person but to never feel an Awen done by many voices or be part of a walk to the Tor or a ceremony at an ancient circle of standing stones or so many of the things that you guys take for granted, well that is a lonely prospect. Some things I think you have to feel to be able to recreate successfully elsewhere. This talk that is suddenly around the druid circles is very isolating for those of us in far flung frontiers, when we didn’t really need any more of that.

  7. Nic Ford said:

    Hey Corwen,

    Does this mean we’ll be seeing you and Kate back at the Grey Mare Camp? As you know we’ve been using composting loos for the past 12 years and recycling bins for the last 7, we don’t buy new kit if we can get second-hand and we do have a reputation locally for leaving the campsite in better shape than we found it. But it’s always good to re-examine what one does, and how, and why. I’m not pleased about who The Mare banks with, and I intend to address that very soon – thanks for reminding me. Air travel to events – some very dear friends visit us at camp occasionally from the far side of the planet, but we’re only a part of their overseas holiday experience. Even if that were not so, I can’t see myself suggesting to the Committee that we refuse to accept bookings from people because of their preferred mode of transport. As Keechy says, it’s one of many factors of the individual’s eco-footprint. Love the idea of a Pagan Camp Wiki, btw.

  8. Draig said:

    I completely agree with everything said in the original blog. I think, in many ways, one of the core problems with Pagan camps, is that most of them just function as a holiday for a lot of the people going there. Their depth has become diminished, as has their ethical honour codes.

    Despite what a lot of Pagans may think, Paganism in the UK is actually in decline. Yes, there are some middle aged (middle class) people turning to it, but within the younger generation its influence is barley perceivable. This is especially noticeable when it comes to its presence within the more radical, counter cultural sections of Britain’s youth.

    I have been a front-line activist now for a number of years and can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Pagans (I refer here to people who freely give themselves this title) that I have met who are my own age. In contrast to this, I have met countless older radicals who are practicing Pagans. Something has quite clearly gone very, very wrong.

    The majority of Pagans (urban, middle class, middle aged) will not have noticed this decline. In fact, many would relish this fact if they knew. I have often come under criticism by this moral majority for being a radical, for being a Warrior. Apparently activism is a very un-Pagan thing to do these days, which speaks volumes. Paganism’s radical heritage is being sacrificed in favour of comfortable main-stream acceptability, and it is dying because of this.

    For example, take a look at the ‘Spirit of Albion’. Here is a film endorsed by one of Britain’s supposed Pagan superstars, and yet the young activist (George) within the tale is killed for his militancy. It is strongly insinuated that he brought it all on himself for daring to stand up and fight back. The paper-thin representation of the Morrigan shakes her head sadly at the brutality of man (queue subtly racist montage of dead white warriors, but that’s another topic of conversation), basically stating that those of us who stand up to try and stop the evils of this world are fools.

    To put it bluntly, the Spirit of Albion seems to suggest that the only spiritually sound option is to sit down, shut up and keep consuming. All one has to do to be saved (because, well, in all honesty the Spirit of Albion is a Christian conversion story draped with Pagan iconography) is to let the old Gods into your heart. This is utter bull s**t.

    Where am I going with all this? Well, it’s quite simple. The majority of Pagans couldn’t care less about ethics – or, at least, they unquestioningly adopt the dominant liberal moral paradigm and sneer at anything more hard-line (or honest). Most practice fare-trade liberalism (a form of short sighted and completely ineffectual ethical consumption that only serves to produce a self-righteous sense of moral superiority) and see it as being enough. It is not. So much of modern Paganism is all about me, me, me. There is no real sacrifice in it. No real sense of service.

    And here we come right down to the central point. For many, modern Paganism is simply a psychological hobby, a romantic past-time to spend their disposable income on. Camps are simply holiday destinations, so why shouldn’t they drive there? They drive to the beach or to the park, so why not drive to a camp site so they can get smashed with their mates?

    So from the depth of my heart, I thank you Kate for righting this. I’m spreading it around the place as we speak. It is a very important piece of literature.

    There is one topic, however, that you haven’t covered within the blog. And that’s the subject of land rights. The idea of land ownership is in many ways very un-Pagan, and is also one of the root evils of the modern world (if not the entire history of civilization itself). The question I ask you is this:

    Is it ethical for a Pagan camp to pay a land owner to use his or her land?

    I would be very interested in hearing your opinion on this subject 🙂

    • Gwion said:

      I had heard tell that Martin Carthy travelled/travels to his gigs by train – but then he just has the one guitar and, with his level of fame/following, I doubt if he needs to take his own PA these days!. There’s a Mudcat thread which includes some of the problems associated with train travel to gigs. (

      • Corwen said:

        @GWion Thanks for the link. Martin is a great example. Too many musicians die on their way back from gigs late at night, so his example is certainly one to emulate.

        We’ve been looking at changing our kit to allow us to travel, though it is awkward as we generally have to play amplified because of the sort of music we play, especially the occasional Ceilidh we do which really needs to be loud. Maybe we need louder instruments!

    • Corwen said:

      @DRaig I think Pagan camps have indeed gone off the boil gradually over the last few years. The first Druid camps I went to maybe 20 years ago were deeply transformational. Part of that was my youth, but also the camps themselves were designed as magical acts to cause change among the people who attended. They were braver, in those days before public liability insurance and law suits. I don’t think many camps are designed that way any more, they have settled into a pattern, individually and collectively. There are things you expect to see, workshops are largely an entertainment now rather than a challenge. Many camps I’ve noticed lay on professional entertainment which whilst great in itself is not so good if it fills the entirety of the evenings and displaces the fireside scene completely. It was that fireside scene that nurtured the performers we all love today. Damh and Cerri’s Anderida Camp actually preserves that old feeling more than many of the others I’ve attended.

      Many camps have grown too big to have a single fire, and where they have they have grown large they aren’t divided into separate ‘villages’ each with their own fire, as the big Druid camps were years ago, rather people camp higgledy piggledy like any medium sized festival, which cannot foster community feeling. All of this encourages people to treat these events as a holiday. There is nothing wrong with that actually, holidays are nice, but maybe it would be better if the camp scene had preserved its spiritual focus?

      I don’t know how these issues can be solved, or even if they can be solved. As you say what was once almost a cultural resistance movement from the 50s to the 80s has become acceptable and lost its edge. Paganism was involved in ecological actions and gender politics back then, what is it fighting for now, just its own acceptance? It has become a path of spiritual consumerism for many people. Perhaps Paganism as a whole needs to be rebooted?

      Going back to events, We have a little experience with the Bear Feast, which was designed to have a definite mission and effect. Perhaps in 2014 or 2015 we will attempt to run a bigger event combining the best practise I’ve seen at other camps. I would certainly like to bring camp organisers together to discuss scheduling and other issues, some of these things could be discussed at such a meeting, which would be fascinating.

    • Nic Ford said:

      Well said, Draig – but should we be surprised that a large proportion of people self-describing as being of this or that religion are really just a bunch of selfish, unthinking hypocrites? Why should one (paganism) be different, or be considered inherently superior, or by its nature expected to attract morally better people? I personally do get a bit disappointed when some who come to the camps I help organise appear to be there only to consume what is provided and complain if their culturally-derived customer expectations are not met. I hope they are able to process their disappointment as an educational experience, as I do mine.

      Regarding land ownership – we are a membership, invitation-only camp, and the organisers floated the idea of a trust to acquire suitable land so as to free us up from economic dependency on other landowners and give us an opportunity collectively to walk our talk. It was not a popular idea, the idea of the management of it being in the hands of a few trustees was anathema to many whose political ideology would rather have voting on everything and so consign us to the ongoing serfdom or villeinage of hire tenancy. (Cue peasants’ anarcho-syndicalist collective sketch from ‘Monty Python And The Holy Grail’).

      In my cynical old age the only way forward I can see from where I’m sitting is to try to form that trust independently and then offer the result as a benevolent oligarchy.

      Corwen – I would welcome a meeting of camp organisers.

      • Slam dunkin like Shaquille O’Neal, if he wrote intimrafove articles.

  9. The truth of the matter is I should be in the UK for 3 to 4 weeks next year, this may co-incide with the dates for next years Druid Camp depending on when the camp is held. The “discussion” began as I was simply asking if there was public transport available to this event. I was quite excited at the possibility to attend, the annual pagan camp where I live is quite wiccan run and orrientated, so the thought of being able to attend an event orientated around Druidry was an exciting thought, but not my sole reason for being in the UK, and flying I rarely do. I live in what is often refered to as the most isolated capital city in the world. Truth be known I am very interested in experiencing the history of the UK, but I have no interest in glorifying it or pretending to be my ancestors who walked those lands. My lifestyle is very much rooted here where I reside. Yes I hope if I attended that it may offer me the inspiration and potential for greater things. If this flight makes me a bad person and unfit to be a Druid and pagan in your eyes then your entitled to your opinion, we all have them, but I would prefer not be the butt of someones generalisation and distaste towards those who visit the UK. Perhaps aim that a bit higher in a direction that really makes a greater difference and change.

    • Corwen said:

      firstly of course I don’t think you are a bad person (not that it matters what I think), but I do find unnecessary air travel sad. The planet just can’t take all the harm we are doing, flying is part of that, maybe not the biggest part, but it is something we have very easy control over personally. We can’t choose not to heat our homes or eat, even driving may be essential, but flying is definitely both optional and extremely destructive when looked at against the other impacts our lives cause.

      I’m not sure what difference the length of a person’s stay makes, and I was only going by what you said on the Druid Camp site about your stay, but I have certainly met people who have flown only to attend a camp and see a few historical sites. Flying to attend Pagan gatherings is routine in the USA, I’m told.

      Anyway I was trying to make a bigger point about the environmental impact of Pagan events, which we have a spiritual and moral duty to reduce, IMO.

      • Amber said:

        I feel so much happier now I unnarstedd all this. Thanks!

      • An unputdownable treatment is worth scuttlebutt. I suppose that you should compose much on this subject, it power not be a bias mortal but generally grouping are not sufficiency to verbalise on specified topics. To the succeeding. Cheers like your Invasion! Crew Wars resumed! | Pokemon Cyrus Online.

    • Keechy said:

      I feel for you and think we may live in the same place. Maybe the three of us can have an event together. 😛

  10. Rowena said:

    This is a most interesting and worthwhile discussion. I live in isolated circumstances and with no car. I am also limited by having CFS/ME, so on some days even a walk to the bus stop is impossible. My social life is thus sporadic, and I haven’t been to a Pagan event for years. It seems that if you aren’t able to be a regular, people assume you’re not interested. If ever I needed to travel a long distance I would have to fly, as long road journeys are too exhausting for me. The alternative would be to stay at home and miss out – again.

    In regards to shorter journeys for local workshops and events: in days past I never had to ask for lifts, offers were always forthcoming, but over recent decades this has changed. It’s become inconvenient to make a detour to pick someone up, or too expensive with the rising cost of fuel, yet where I live most people drive their children to and from school every day even where there are buses. To me it seems that, even with all the concern about rising carbon levels, etc, the broader social ethic has changed. People’s boundaries of caring have contracted to themselves and their immediate family, and others in the wider community have to struggle for themselves.

    I’m not just having a whinge for myself here, I just want to point this out because it links in with what you all have said above. I don’t have any set answers, but I do know that our culture needs a renewal of focus on locality, as well as more awareness of those who have fallen out of the loop not by choice but by circumstance. Pagans could be the standard bearers – as long as we remain clear about all the side issues and complexities.

  11. bellyfat said:

    Can i eliminate stomach bodyweight…?

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