Tour of modern paganism

Radio: THE WITCHING HOUR; Radio 1
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The Independent Culture
You probably thought that the big problems for witches were things like being thrown in ponds with their hands and feet tied, or getting burned at the stake. Not for modern witches, though: according to a witch from Leeds interviewed on The Witching Hour (Radio 1, Sunday), a Cook's tour of modern paganism, their biggest problem is finding running water to throw away spells once they've been written down - apparently essential to the spells' smooth working. This witch (who, interestingly, kept a sweetshop - shades of Hansel and Gretel here) said that she always used to flush them down the lavatory instead. Pagan ritual today, you gathered, lacks a certain glamour.

This came out in the language pagans use, an excruciating cod medieval jargon that owes more to "2000AD" and old heavy metal records than to ancient traditions. At one point in the programme the listener was taken to a fertility rite, which ended with a ceremonial vote of thanks to the air spirits who were presumed to have turned up (not that anybody was sure, since they were invisible): "Creatures of the east, sylphs of air," it went, "I thank you for attending this rite, and ere you return to thy own pleasant realms, we do bid thee hail and farewell." Did they know that "thou" is a singular pronoun? That "Hail and farewell" doesn't just mean goodbye? "You would have thought that pagan rituals were wild and spontaneous," said the presenter, Amanda Sealy, "but actually they take hours of planning." It didn't show.

At times, Sealy did show some awareness of how silly all this was. At the pagan wedding of Paul and Bihari - I'm guessing the spelling - the happy couple talked about how they had met at a ritual when both were skyclad (ie, naked). Paul denied, however, that the fundamental attraction had been sexual: "What it is to do with is what the person is beneath that skin," he explained. In one of the programme's neater touches, he was undermined by the persistent pop backing track, which at this point started playing "I wanna sex you up".

For the most part, though, the programme was happy to take pagans at their own estimation, as though this was a genuine religion. It isn't, of course: what it is is a hotchpotch of undigested influences - American Indian and guesswork druidic ritual flung together with tarot cards and even a dash of Rosicrucianism.

It seems ironic that the BBC's religious programmes department, which isn't prepared to allow humanists on Thought for the Day, was happy to sponsor a programme taking seriously this juvenile mess of ersatz tradition. Presumably their thinking is that any religion, however frivolous and ill-thought out, is better than none. Well, it's a point of view.

Not many witches on Devil's Advocate (Radio 4, Saturday), although Jeffrey Archer was defending Macbeth. His main argument, based on history rather than Shakespeare, was that Duncan was a weak and vacillating leader, and such people ought to be got rid of. Just in case you were wondering why Lord Archer hasn't been holding down any senior posts in the Tory Party lately.

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