For me, subversion is a big part of what Steampunk is all about, both as a genre and a social scene. I talked a bit in the previous blog about the subversive power of writing women back into history, but it certainly doesn’t stop there! By offering an alternative version of reality, Steampunk writing and culture can hold up mirrors to the world we live in, make comment, critique and offering different ways of being. All this is most usually done in a light-hearted and playful way, which is a good deal more effective than lecturing people.
Let’s take the example of titles. Many Steampunks adopt aristocratic titles for themselves, or other markers of social importance. At first glance this might seem like buying into a system of elitism which is anti-democratic, and upholds the romance of wealth with no regard for the people whose labour enables it. Now pause and consider how this actually works. Anyone in Steampunk can give themselves a jazzy title. Anyone at all, and any title. If everyone in the room has given themselves a title, then those titles have no meaning any more. They do not denote power or wealth. All they actually indicate is how playful and imaginative the individual is. Those titles do not confer power or influence. As a consequence, they quietly serve to disempower other titles.
Let me give you an example. I’m a Druid. One of the things modern Druidry is plagued by, are people with a fetish for titles. There are a surprising number of ArchDruids out there, and self-declared leaders of this, that, and frequently the other. They represent a tiny minority in the Druid community, but are disproportionately loud and attention seeking. When a person actually runs an Order, you need to label them for ease of identification, and there are some fine examples out there of people doing a job who have been labelled accordingly. Every now and then you also run into the ArchDrud of the Ancient Order of Atlantean Stone Circle Builders. Said Order will in fact consist of the ArchDruid, someone they met in the pub, and a dog. The ArchDruid will, nonetheless, expect to be taken seriously as a ‘senior’ Druid and have their ‘authority’ respected.
Now, I’m not just a Druid, I’m a Steampunk, and I don’t believe that respecting the authority people give themselves is a great thing to do. So I subvert. Enter The Secret Order of Steampunk Druids. It isn’t a Secret, and it isn’t even slightly Orderly, score two for subversion. It doesn’t have very many rules. It functions to mock and undermine excessively self-important Druidry. One of the ways it does this is with titles. A person who knows their Druidry should give themselves a title like ‘Boot polisher for the Secret Order’ or ‘Woman who brings up the rear in processions’ or some other self-effacing silliness. Only those folk who come in from the Steampunk side, knowing nothing whatsoever about Druidry, should call themselves ArchDruids or anything else senior sounding. At the head of this wonderful outfit, is Professor Elemental, self-styled Lord Summerisle. From which you can easily identify that the man wouldn’t know an actual Druid from a neo-Celtic reconstructionist… and that’s as it should be. Imagine the consequences of this leaching out into the Pagan community, such that to call yourself an ‘ArchDruid’ is to imply that you have no idea what you’re talking about. Subversion is a powerful thing.
It also gives me scope to have a laugh at the expense of known Druid history (trust me, it’s that or weep…) the Revival period of modern Druidry, (18th and 19th century) was like something out of a Monty Python sketch, with every sillier names, ever more grandiose invented histories, and rather a lot of fraud in ‘creating’ ancient texts. Such is the fine and noble tradition I belong to. Enter Revival-Revival, which is all about reclaiming the creativity and energy, while taking the mick out of the self-important bits. To this end I shall be writing the imaginary minuets of the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids from 1854 or thereabouts, and pretending they are ancient and accurate, while making it very clear that they aren’t. By this means, I may make some peace with the crazy Druids who went before me. I’ll be doing this via the newsletter of my Pagan Publisher, Moon Books (www.moon–books.net)
I will probably offend some people. That’s fine. It’s part of the job.
Author of Hopeless Main graphic novel series, Steampunk novel Intelligent Designing for Amateurs, and somewhat responsible for the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids. Also writes about Druidry and creates other gothic fiction.