Scottish university allows pagans to hold rituals

Paganism is to receive official recognition at Scotlandís oldest seat of learning.

St Andrews University, whose graduates include Prince William, has decided to allocate an area for followers of the alternative religion to hold festivals and rituals.

University chiefs took the decision after realising that failure to cater for followers of the ancient faith could see them fall foul of equal rights legislation.

In return for granting pagans access to campus buildings and providing an outdoor space for festivals, the university has imposed a strict series of rules. Incantations or spells that might be viewed as harmful to followers of other faiths have been outlawed from university premises.

Similarly pagans ó or wiccans as they are sometimes known ó have been warned that there must be no attempts to raise spirits or to call up dark forces, and ritual nudity is strictly forbidden.

ďThe University Court decided that to exclude the pagan society from use of the Mansfield building on campus would breach policy on equal rights,Ē the university said. ďOther university organisations, including the chaplaincy, have access to the building in question.Ē

The St Andrews Pagan Society has told university officials that it is happy to comply with the restrictions in return for official recognition. ďWe donít want to make anybody uncomfortable by us practising our faith here,Ē a spokesman said.

The move has sparked controversy in the Fife community which has long been a key centre for Scottish Christianity. Phil Gallie, the Conservative MSP and Christian, was appalled by the move. ďThis is another example of the whole human rights and equal opportunities agenda gone mad,Ē he said.

The St Andrews Pagan Society website features a pentagram, or five-pointed star, and states: ďPaganism describes a host of religious systems that work closely with and respect and revere nature and the natural world. As pagans are polytheistic they have gods and goddesses of the forests, the sea and of all aspects of nature.Pagans hold no belief in heaven or hell as Christians do, rather they believe in reincarnation.Ē

Pictures on the site show members dancing round maypoles, gathering around bonfires and decorating eggs with brightly coloured paint.

The group holds ďnice get togethersĒ on full-moon evenings and organises annual trips to the Pagan Federation Conference in Edinburgh.

In the cult 1970s film the Wicker Man a Christian policeman, played by Edward Woodward, travels to a remote Scottish isle only to meet a grizzly fate at the hands of the pagan locals.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Sunday Times, UK
June 18, 2006
Marc Horne

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