Sabrina, Harry and the Web Help UK Paganism
Thu June 19, 2003
07:16 AM ET
By Pete Harrison
LONDON (Reuters) - Paganism and the ancient art of witchcraft are
on the rise in Britain, experts said on Thursday as the summer's
most celebrated Pagan festival approached.
Television, the Internet, environmentalism and even feminism have
all played a role in the resurgence, they say.
Soaring Pagan numbers have churches worrying and calling for
stricter controls on cult TV programs and films that celebrate
sorcery like "Harry Potter," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Sabrina
the Teenage Witch."
Record attendance is expected at dawn on Saturday morning at the
mystical megaliths of Stonehenge, where Pagans have celebrated the
summer solstice for thousands of years.
The trend has worried some of the Protestant church's more
"The rise of interest in Paganism is damaging because it
normalizes spiritual evil by presenting it as mere fantasy and
fiction," said Reverend Joel Edwards of the Evangelical Alliance, a
grouping of some one million UK Christians.
"The Evangelical Alliance calls on government and TV regulatory
bodies to monitor programs which promote or glamorize Pagan issues,"
he told Reuters.
Thirty thousand are expected to dance in the sunrise on summer's
longest day at Stonehenge, says English Heritage, which manages the
site -- nearly four times the number in 1990, when it re-opened to
the public after many years.
Scholars believe the ring of 20-tonstones was built between 3,000
and 1,600 BC as a sacred temple. Many of the revelers will be there
just to party, but among them will be druids, who believe in
spiritual enlightenment through nature, and witches who practice
Wicca -- harnessing nature's power as magic.
At least 10,000 Pagan witches and 6,000 Pagan druids were
practicing in Britain at the last estimate in 1996, said history
professor Ronald Hutton at Bristol University. He too suggested the
number was rising.
"Both the witches and the druids were always heavily outnumbered
by what I'd call non-attached Pagans," he told Reuters. "There are
perhaps 100,000 to 120,000 in Britain."
Paganism has been rising in the UK since the 1950s, Hutton said.
"It's a religion that meets modern needs," he added. "Traditional
religions have so many prohibitions: Thou shalt not do this or that.
But Paganism has a message of liberation combined with good
He pointed to the ancient Pagan motto: "An (if) it harm none, do
what you will."
Matt McCabe of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) said
his order had grown from a few hundred in the late 1980s to 7,000
worldwide today. Much of the growth he put down to the appeal of
remote learning via the World Wide Web.
"People are very reassured by the structured learning we can
offer via the Web," he said.
The 1970s environmental movement also had an impact, said McCabe,
with a lot of environmentalists attracted to Paganism because of its
veneration of nature.
Hutton said feminism in the 1980s had a similar effect, with
women drawn to the female god-figure that is also worshipped. Then
in the 1990s came the TV programs "Buffy" and "Sabrina," about
teenagers with supernatural powers.
"Anything that makes teenage girls feel powerful is bound to go
down well," joked OBOD's McCabe.
Kevin Carlyon, High Priest of British White Witches said "Harry
Potter" in recent years had continued the trend, helping create what
he called "the fastest growing belief system in the world." But it
was not all good, he added.
Fresh back from a trip to Scotland to lift an old hex from the
Loch Ness Monster, he warned teenagers against joining witch covens
"There are some bloody weird people out there," he said.