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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

    £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

    £23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...