Wands and wine for imprisoned pagans

Pagan priests will be allowed to use wine and wands during ceremonies in jails under instructions issued to every prison governor.

Inmates practising paganism will be allowed a hoodless robe, incense and a piece of religious jewellery among their personal possessions. They will also be allowed to have Tarot cards but are forbidden from using them to tell the fortunes of other prisoners.

The guidance, issued by Michael Spurr, the director of operations of the Prison Service, makes it clear that Skyclad (naked pagan worship) will not be permitted. Prison staff have been told that pagan artefacts should be treated with respect.

The formal guidance on paganism in prison is contained in a 14-page annexe to a Prison Service order on religion in jails. It was issued last month to governors, chaplains and race relations officers. Under sections ranging from the use of wine, dress and hygiene to festivals, marriage and death, governors are given a complete guide to paganism, based on information supplied by the Pagan Federation.

It is the latest faith guidance sent to governors to deal with an increasingly diverse prison population in England and Wales. Previous documents have included guidance on Buddhism, Sikhism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Governors are told that the main pagan festivals are at the time of a full moon, and seasonal celebrations such as the spring and autumn equinox, midsummer and Samhain, on October 31, the Celtic new year.

“Some Pagans like to celebrate Samhain with cider for the celebration of the apple harvest. In prison an apple can substitute for cider,” the guidance says.

Prisoners will be allowed to practice paganism in their cells, including prayer, chanting and the reading of religious texts and rituals. The wearing of ritual jewellery must be risk-assessed by prison officers before the inmate is allowed to place it around the neck.

The guidance adds: “Washing prior to ritual is considered very important in some traditions. Where possible, prisoners should be permitted to shower prior to group worship.”

In addition to a hoodless robe, prisoners can keep a flexible twig as a wand, a chalice and rune stones. The guidance makes clear that the hoodless robe can be used only during worship, and not by prisoners while on the wings.

The guidance highlights the part that wine plays in pagan rituals: “Some . . . will use water while other groups will use red wine. It is important that both variations be treated equally.”

But wine must be ordered through the prison chaplaincy, stored securely and used only under supervision. “Individual consumption will be one sip only. As part of the ceremony, the pagan chaplain may also anoint the prisoners with wine on the forehead,” the instruction says.

Prisoners will be permitted books of pagan writings, and the guidance specifies what staff should do in the event of a pagan marriage, to be performed by a pagan chaplain in addition to an office register ceremony, and a pagan death.

It is not known how many pagan prisoners are in jails in England and Wales.


Anglican 26,055
Free Church 1,418
Roman Catholic 12,750
Other Christian 2,239
Buddhist 947
Hindu 339
Jewish 184
Muslim 6,136
Sikh 490
Other non-Christian 207
No religion 22,584

Source: Prison Service. June 2003


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Times, UK
Oct. 17, 2005
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday October 17, 2005.
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