UK: Number of pagan prisoners has doubled over four years

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Number of pagan prisoners has doubled over four years

Paganism is on the rise in jails in England and Wales with the number of practising prisoners more than doubling in the past four years.

Paganism was recognised by the Prison Service as a religion more than eight years ago but since 2003 the numbers have risen steadily from 133 to 328 in 2007, according to figures published yesterday.

In Albany jail on the Isle of Wight, the number of pagan prisoners increased from 12 to 34 in eight months, making paganism the fifth most-practised religion in the Category B jail.

As today is Hallowe’en, pagan prisoners can opt not to work or attend education – inmates are allowed to select two dates from a list of annual festivals when they are excused from work – as the day is one of the religion’s key festivals.

In paganism Hallowe’en is known as Samhain – the Celtic new year – and the Prison Service has issued advice that though it is often celebrated with cider to mark the apple harvest, in jails this cannot be allowed. Instead, prison governors have been told that an apple on the altar can be a substitute for cider.


Inmates practising paganism are allowed among their personal possessions a hoodless robe, a flexible twig for a wand, incense and a piece of jewellery.

The Prison Service has made clear that the hoodless robe can be used only during private worship in an inmate’s cell or when a number of pagans in one prison gather together to worship.

Pagan prisoners are also allowed to have tarot cards but staff have barred them from using them to tell the fortunes of other prisoners. Nor is skyclad – naked pagan worship – allowed under the Prison Service rules.

The guidance to governors also says that pagans can use wine as part of their worship. “Where wine is used, it must be ordered through the prison chaplaincy department (not brought in by the pagan chaplain), stored securely and only be used under the pagan chaplain’s supervision. Individual consumption will be one sip only,” the guidance states.

– Source: Number of pagan prisoners has doubled over four years, Richard Ford, The Times (UK), Oct. 31, 2008

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This post was last updated: Oct. 31, 2008