Poles apart

Head to head Should we still celebrate pagan British festivals like maypole dancing? Lead the way, says white witch Kate West. God forbid, says the Rev Paul Harris

Pro-paganism

"Paganism has had centuries of bad propaganda, sometimes church- led, which is based on fear and ignorance. But it was here before the Christian church, and a lot of Christian ceremonies have been appropriated from pagan ways. Yule, for example, is the time pagans celebrate the rebirth of the sun. This was taken over by Christians as Christmas, and used to celebrate the birth of the son. Paganism is a nature-based religion, and our festivals often celebrate the changing of the seasons. May Day is our way of celebrating the renewed fertility of the land and the marriage of the God and Goddess, which is where the tradition of choosing a May Queen and King comes from.

Unlike Christianity, we don't need an intermediary to intercede with the divine for us, because we're each our own priest or priestess. One of the reasons paganism is becoming popular is that people are moving beyond the stage where their spirituality has to be led. Whereas in the church people are told that there is only one true way, we believe that as long as there is no harm done, nobody has the right to tell others how they should worship.

People talk about us tampering with Satanism, which is a fictionalisation of our beliefs. I have had more people coming to me who've had damaging experiences involving the Church of England than involving paganism. Every group has bad apples: I would no more say, `All Christian ministers are paedophiles,' than I would expect them to say that all pagans are Satanists. To the established churches we're a threat. By advocating freedom from a hierarchical priesthood and placing importance on personal responsibility, we're removing the churches' power-base. We're putting priests out of business."

Kate West is vice-president of the Pagan Federation. She will celebrate May Day - or Beltane - by feasting and dancing

Anti-paganism

"I can understand why paganism is popular; it has an appeal to people who want to have their cake and eat it - to be able to have a bit of religion but without really any responsibility. It's concerned with people 'discovering themselves', it's superficial and self- centred. Christians believe that there is a way to live that involves more than just passively respecting others, but also actually responding to responsibilities. We're not divorced from the big issues in life such as loving your neighbour as yourself, what's going on in Kosovo, man's humanity to man.

Centuries ago, paganism was left behind and people embraced Christianity partly because they wanted to be free of fear and superstition. The newer religion recognised a need to celebrate the seasons so the old ways were Christianised. So when Pagans say their festivals have been appropriated they're partly right, but what they're trying to prove from this I don't know. Just because something's been there the longest it doesn't mean it's the best.

You may find Christians dancing round the maypole, which is no harm in itself, but it becomes very difficult if there are prayers to pagan gods or pagan symbolism involved. Some people say, 'Well, can't we just mix elements of paganism and Christianity together?' But that really does strike at the heart of our belief - the God we believe in is not a God among Gods. This is very different to Paganism, which embraces a bit of everything - Eastern mysticism, Jungian psychoanalysis, feminist spirituality. As a belief system it's very lightweight. There's a phrase sometimes used about it, which is that it's very much a 'pick and mix' religion - what often happens is that people pick and finish up mixed-up."

The Rev Paul Harris works for the Evangelical Alliance, and will not be celebrating May Day

Interviews by Fiona McClymont

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Client Account Executive

    £23000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Account Executive is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Full Time position available now at a growing...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

    Ashdown Group: Reporting & Analytics Supervisor - Buckinghamshire - £36,000

    £34000 - £36000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Analytics & Reporting Tea...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future