Pagans poised for recognition

The Sunday Herald (Scotland), July 6, 2003
By Jenifer Johnston

Scotland’s Pagan community is set to gain official status as a recognised religion after raising funds for a recount of the 2001 Scottish census.

Pagans were lumped into the ‘other religion’ category at the time of the original count. But they claim they have thousands of members in Scotland and that the faithful — which includes witches, druids and healers, and is based around a connection with nature — should have formal recognition within the Scottish landscape of religion. Their eventual aim is that the state should recognise weddings, funerals and other rites of passage within a Pagan context and that Pagans should be allowed to take holidays for events like the summer solstice without prejudice.

MSPs turned down their public petition to extract the data from the census at the Scottish parliament in February this year because of ‘technical difficulties’, but the Pagan Federation claim they are now almost ready to ask the Registrar General for a recount.

John Macintyre, spokesman for the Pagan Federation in Scotland, told the Sunday Herald that Paganism is the fastest-growing religion in Scotland and should be recognised at civic level.

He said: ‘We have to take up our proper place alongside other faiths — we are now very close to raising the £2000 needed to implore the General Registry to do the recount and we are sure that by the end of the year we will know how many Scots are Pagans.’

‘I would estimate that we now number between 4000 and 5000, which would put us on a comparable level with Hindus or Sikhs in Scotland. Now that is a huge change from just 25 years ago, when we would only have been talking about a few dozen people.’

The Pagan Federation are already active in the inter-faith network around Scotland, but want a more prominent position in order, claims MacIntyre, to ‘prevent the widespread bigotry and abuse suffered by our members.’

More and more ‘ordinary’ people are turning to Paganism instead of more orthodox faiths. Macintyre claimed that ‘middle-class, older people, professional people and ‘the suits’ if you like’ are making up a large number of Pagans in today’s Scotland. Unofficially, Scotland is home to 10,000 Pagans, with growth in numbers at 100% year-on-year. In the UK there are an estimated 108,000 witches and 225,000 Pagans, but Macintyre dismissed a link between the growth in numbers and the popular interest in the Harry Potter series and TV programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

He said: ‘Like most Pagans I find pop culture references embarrassing, just as the Goth clothes that some teenagers wear would be embarrassing for Christians. It is very against our ethos to actively convert anyone to Paganism, although our demographic does include a lot of younger people, but also a lot of well-educated people.

‘The religion has grown because there is more ecological awareness and the fact that information about all faiths is now more readily available. There is also a lessened fear of religious persecution and, in some cases, bigotry.

‘There can be religious persecution towards Pagans just as there is towards other religions and I would say, on the grounds of religion, Pagans come in for the most abuse out of any of the faiths.’

The news comes on the same weekend that WitchFest was held in Glasgow, attracting around 500 visitors to their first Scottish event as well as small protests from local Christian groups.

Organiser Pauline Reid, who runs the Hearth Coven with her husband Chad, agrees that the people joining the Pagan faith were not stereo typical witches or bearded druids.

She said: ‘The whole area is definitely becoming more mainstream and more accepted by Scottish society. There are people from all walks of life who are Pagans — doctors, lawyers — there are probably people you work with who are Pagans. Just 50 years ago it was a very hidden thing, but now people are far more open and honest about their beliefs, whether it’s Paganism or any other faith.’

‘Within our members there are a lot of people who want the stigma of being a Pagan removed. They want to fight for their rights to have their faith just as any other group wants to. I would be very happy to work on Christmas Day, because for me my holiday is the winter solstice, and there should be more recognition of that on a par with other religions.’

Nicola Laird, 28, a kiltmaker, and Lynsey Boyle, 22, an administrator, travelled from Edinburgh for the event. The only sign of their faith is their pentagram necklaces — they agreed that being a Pagan in today’s Scotland could be made easier.

Nicola said: ‘I had a work colleague who was a Christian evangelist who said I was going to Hell for being a Pagan, but after I talked with him for a long time he now respects my beliefs.’

Lynsey added: ‘A lot of people think that spell-casting is automatically wishing bad things on others, but for us it is no different than saying a prayer.’

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said the issue was important to the government.

She said: ‘Scotland is a multi-faith, multi-cultural society. That was shown by the number of people registering their faiths and beliefs during the 2001 census. The Executive wants to build a Scotland of tolerance where everyone can play a part in strengthening their communities.’

Lobby groups were also warning employers this weekend that new EU legislation on religious discrimination could cause major problems for British businesses.

The EU Equal Treatment Framework Directive comes into force in December and will make it illegal to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their religion, including a specific warning to employers that they should not discriminate against those who choose to follow ‘alternative beliefs’.

Fears have been voiced that a slew of industrial tribunals will follow the introduction of the legislation.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday July 10, 2003.
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