Katy Guest: We wish you a merry Solstice. Or whatever...

Light of the world or warmth in the gloom? Our writer on Pagans

Share
Related Topics

The next time two smartly dressed young people knock at your door, keep you chatting as if they're casing the joint and then ask you whether you really understand the true meaning of Christmas, try this: invite them in, brew up some hot mead, and explain to them patiently about a time 2,000 years ago when early Christians went in search of an arbitrary date on which to celebrate an event of middling theological importance in their fledgling religion.

Sitting around a festive Yule tree (redolent of the Norse god Ullr), decorated in tiny, glittering symbols of the end of darkness and the return to light, watch their little faces light up as you share seasonal offerings of meat and sprouts, in communion with the seasonal generosity of nature. Soon they will understand the true meaning of the Winter Solstice.

It's not that the Romans stole Pagan traditions, exactly, when they reached these shores aiming to convert Britannia to their new religion and decided to celebrate the birth of Christ during the festival of Mithras, the Roman god of light.

Christmas happens on 25 December all over the world, of course. But, in other Christian countries, Christmas Day is not the most important event in the calendar. We go large on Christmas here because it is precisely the time of year when people in northern Europe need to party. Before telescopes, before literacy, before even clocks, it would take a few days for early Pagans to notice that the days had started getting longer and that Yule had given birth to the child of promise so that the Wheel of the Year could start its revolution again. And so, four days after the Winter Solstice, we celebrate – more or less exactly as we always did, as far as we can tell.

It seems weird, then, that there is still so much fear and ignorance about relatively benign Pagan traditions in this country. This month the Daily Mail, where fear and ignorance are almost a religion in themselves, described how Pagan prisoners will be given time off their duties to celebrate up to four festivals a year. The paper was sad to have to reveal that Pagans eat eggs and Simnel cake on the Spring Equinox and roast goose at the Autumn Equinox, and that on Samhain ("celebrated on Halloween") these degenerate people actually go apple bobbing. Where will the depravity end?

Of course, Paganism, like Christianity, comprises many different religions: Wicca and Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, Shamanism... And what will really frighten the Daily Mail is that Paganism is growing. The historian Ronald Hutton made the only serious study of numbers in 2000, when he estimated that about 120,000 people attended Pagan rituals and meetings. He now accepts that the number is about twice that, and the Pagan Federation believes it to be closer to 360,000, which would be more than the official number of Sikhs in Britain recorded by the 2001 census.

Add to that the environmentalists for whom humans' link to the earth is vital, and the number must be in the millions. Add to those everybody who has a Christmas tree, or decorates the house with twinkly lights, and Pagans pretty much have it sewn up. I'm not a Pagan, but I do believe many of their scary fundamentalist doctrines: that the sun rises and sets each day; that summer is lighter than winter; that lots of food is available in autumn; and that life is generally better when it's light and warm and there are roast potatoes cooked in goose fat.

It's not that I'd encourage anyone to demonise instead people who believe that a man was born of a virgin, died and then rose again to teach us all to hate gays; my personal creed is more tolerant than that. But I will be celebrating the Winter Solstice this week. Or do I mean Christmas? It's hard to tell.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas