The Outsiders

(First Appeared in Ripples, The Quarterly Journal of Shining Lakes Grove, Fall Equinox, '95)

As social animals, we humans have an abiding need to belong, and with it to know who belongs with us, and who doesn't. This need to define who is in and who is out is reflected in every aspect of the human condition, from our social structures, to our pastimes, to our religions, and so on. Even those who reject this belonging tend to gravitate together to form a culture of rebellion, characterized by their adherence to whatever the mainstream finds unacceptable.

This behavior makes a lot of sense evolutionarily. In early days, when humans survived as small bands roaming the savannas, cooperation increased the chances of survival of each individual, and increased the likelihood of the gene pool surviving. As populations grew and resources became more scarce, it was advantageous for each tribe to protect its own territory to compete better with its neighbors. The ancient Indo-European peoples certainly followed these patterns, and this territoriality was an obvious byproduct of identifying who was in the tribe (and therefore was not attacked) and who was not (fair game).

This sense of 'in' and 'out' extended beyond social or political arenas to include separations between what was of this world and what was not. Beyond the ninth wave, through the mist, or around the bend were places that were distinctly different, and did not obey the rules of this world. They were passageways through to something 'other', something that lay outside of the boundaries of the familiar.

Our cosmology has a place for those 'others', and we call them the 'Outsiders'. The Outsiders have been treated in numerous ways during ADF rituals, which is probably appropriate, given that they are a collection of that which has been purposely excluded. How each ritual addresses them should probably depend upon the purpose of the ritual, and the people present, and might include any or all of the following concepts.

The Outsiders, by definition, are those that have been left out, or deliberately put out. As members of the cosmology, they are given a place so that they may be bound to a spot, preventing them from exerting whatever influence led them to be considered Outsiders in the first place. In a time and place where physical boundaries were not secure, the Outsiders could represent the very real threat of the enemy coming over the hill to invade the village. Today, in the US, we are fortunate that we do not have these worries (at least not in a military sense).

A different way to look at the Outsiders is to see them as those spiritual forces of the Otherworld that we might not wish to include in our cosmology. These could include everything from sprites and faeries, to trolls and dragons, to deities from pantheons other than our own. This does not imply that the destructiveness is deliberate: a hurricane can be tremendously damaging, but does not intend to be. However, giving it a place is still a means of preventing disruption.

I have also seen the Outsiders portrayed as all the negative emotions that ritual attendees bring with them, emotions that are directed into a vessel and removed from the ritual space. There are two ways to approach this. If one holds that deity and spirit are immanent, then the transferring of negative emotions into a cup, and the directing of disruptive spirits into a particular place are effectively the same thing - it is all an externalization of our own energies. If one believes in immanent deity, then this discarding of emotion is a separate and potentially cleansing act which is distinct from the interaction with Otherworld beings. Either way, its intent is to rid the ritual of harmful and disruptive influences.

The same thread runs through all of these discussions. It is the notion that the Outsiders are that which cannot easily be controlled, or that which is intrinsically chaotic. Our philosophies tell us that to know something's true name is to control it. Placing this wide assortment of otherwise nameless things in one category enables us to name them, at least in some broad sense, and thereby exert a measure of control over them. Inherent in this is the idea that chaos is undesirable, and should be eliminated. While I have certainly observed ADF rituals where this was not the case, generally we try to control and banish all elements that do not fit neatly into our working. I suggest that this is a mistake. Chaos is the fundamental agent of change, and without change we die. The ancient I-E peoples were masters of change, and it allowed them to move into new regions, conquer new peoples, adopt their technologies, improve them, and repeat the cycle. One could argue that in our society today, the only constant is change. The basis of evolution, indeed of all of nature, is change. Certainly controlled chaos is more useful than unbridled change, but to control it completely is to eliminate it.

If we meld all of these views, we can arrive at quite a useful construct. We can define that which is us, as opposed to that which is not. We can name and place those elements which might disrupt or destroy us, while we respect their power and tap their potential. Rather than something to fear or disdain, the Outsiders become an ally, working in harmony with the whole to complete our cosmology.

Author Information

Kit Howard

Articles by Kit Howard

2017 Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Inc.

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