Quest for resting place among ancient stones

Pagan burial ground: Priestess hopes to overcome prejudice and establish new site for use by growing number of followers
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In the mountains of west Wales, the search is on for a pagan burial site to ensure that followers of the ancient ways can be buried with proper ceremony close to their Celtic roots.

Pagan priestess Annie Wildwood would like the site to be close to ancient stones and near suitable ley lines. An area that evokes the elements and brings followers close to their ancestors would be ideal.

But other, more mundane, practicalities have to be considered - ease of transport and a soil surface deep enough for straightforward burial are among them. The site must have no near neighbours and, given the green aspects of paganism, no need to uproot any trees is also a consideration.

The Pagan Hospice and Funeral Trust was established 10 years ago and, after a long fight, is now a registered charity. As well as raising funds to buy the land for a burial site it provides pagan hospice chaplains to sit with the sick and dying and tend their needs, in accordance with their own beliefs, as well as providing support for their families.

A pagan funeral service itself can last a whole day, with chanting, appeals to the elements of earth, sky, fire and water and the playing of drums. Miss Wildwood, a Bristol-based priestess, eschews costumes, but carries a ritual staff and uses other pagan symbols.

In their bid for a burial site, paganists have come up against ill-informed public opinion. Miss Wildwood says pagans have had a bad press. She believes that explaining what paganism isn't is an important part of the battle to educate. "It's not about sacrificing babies and virgins or killing goats. The recent linking of satanism to child sexual abuse certainly didn't help our cause."

There were myriad ways for pagans to follow their beliefs, she added. Her own interest started with the teachings of the North American Indians and has continued to involve ancient Celtic traditions of the UK.

Her own conversion came in a ceremony involving hot stones and a tarpaulin. The spiritual cleansing she experienced changed her life and she has been a devotee since.

A pagan for 10 years, she regards the discovery of a sacred "inner space" and the healing of the soul as central to pagan practice. She conducts pagan versions of wedding and Christian services as well as funerals.

"The last funeral service I conducted was a deeply moving affair. The body was kept at home and people came and went paying their respects as I invoked the deceased ancestors and called on the vital elements. The crematorium was helpful and removed crosses and allowed a pagan service, but by then the process was complete," she said.

However, other funeral directors and health officials are not so helpful, so the paganswant their own burial ground.

Miss Wildwood said two potential sites had already been offered for sale, but in the meantime, her regular search would continue.