Thursday, 8 October 2015
IS IT TIME FOR PAGANISM TO CLEAN UP ITS ACT?
On a trip to the Derbyshire Peak District in the autumn of 2012, specifically Stanton Moor and the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, I was quite shocked at the number of offerings left, that were in truth nothing more than items of rubbish. The majority of the items were tied to the nearby ‘fairy’ or ‘offering’ tree.
Amongst this rubbish was a plastic bottle that was formally used to contain mineral water, plastic based ribbons, plastic toys, plastic jewellery, plastic buttons, plastic charms and even an empty packet of Paracetamol. The key word as I am sure you may have noticed; is plastic. I removed two coat pockets full of this junk, which was as much as I could carry at the time. There was just so much of it that I could not practically carry away more and eventually, I deposited this rubbish in a bin while passing through nearby Bakewell. I make no apology for this action.
I have seen littering of a more deliberate sort when visiting the better known sites, those that attract the larger crowds. Although the Nine Ladies attracts many campers at the Summer Solstice, obviously the numbers are not comparable to those of Stonehenge or Avebury. At the latter two sites and after a Summer Solstice, I have found myself physically disgusted by the rubbish left behind by so called fellow Pagans and New Agers celebrating the festival. Interestingly, at the Winter Solstice, when perhaps the gathering attracts the more hardcore Pagan and fewer numbers, there is little or no litter.
This suggests that Pagans are not solely responsible for this littering but whether that is true or no, we share a collective responsibility by our presence. Furthermore and again whether we like it or not, we are by the public, by landowners and local government, tarred with the same brush. Pagans whilst claiming to revere nature are unfortunately labelled as nothing more than litter louts by some today.
I personally do not object to biodegradable post ritual offerings such as wine or a little cake. Although more awareness by the casual visitor that human foodstuffs such as chocolate, may be harmful to wildlife would be of benefit. My real objection is to the remains of spent candles, plastic ribbon, toys and crystals (yes crystals) being left at sacred sites and other ancient monuments.
I am not advocating an all out ban; neither Paganism nor our sacred places are museum pieces, although some historians may argue otherwise. The sites are used and have been used as places of power, reverence and magic for centuries, long before the repeal of the Witchcraft Act. This we can deduce from local folklore and legend associated with the many ancient monuments or sacred sites. Like a Christian Church, our sites are old (and older) and very often, they have remained in some form of use. They are living places of worship, reverence and magic.
I emphasise that my objection is not to the leaving of food and drink, nor do I object to the leaving of biodegradable items such as cotton ribbon and pieces of cloth. My objection is the leaving of artificial items, generally plastic junk and the burning of candles directly upon the stones of an ancient circle or other such site. Obviously there are some things that I would not remove and this includes the items made from natural materials that will eventually degrade. However, we have to be more aware of how much is left behind or our sacred sites will end up looking like a rubbish tip.
I am therefore left making the suggestion, which I am fully aware is not an original one: that local Pagan groups should with the knowledge and approval of the landowner, ‘adopt’ individual sacred sites, cleaning and maintaining them for the enjoyment of all.
Naturally this would require some diplomacy, as some using the sites for recreational purposes may raise objections to the removal of some items and some working groups may leave physical and spiritual ‘markers’, which are indeed best left alone.
In the case of a physical marker, the item is usually of a Traditional nature and is left denoting Craft usage of a particular spot. Such items for example, would include a carefully and deliberately placed animal skull or an old iron horseshoe placed semi-hidden in a wall or tree, these items mark ‘territory’ and should be left undisturbed. This is how we do things in Derbyshire.
Further diplomacy with regard this issue will be necessary in those parts of the country such as Cornwall, where independent non Pagan Federation groups have already begun this proposed ‘adoption’ of sites. It is unfortunate that in some quarters of the Pagan Community, the Pagan Federation is not highly regarded and attempts to assist may be perceived as an attempt to take over. In these situations it may, for the sake of public relations, be better for the Pagan Federation to take a more reserved, background and supporting role.
First published as: Chattering Magpie (D.B.Griffith) (2013) Is it time for Paganism to clean up its act? Deosil Dance. issue 57 Mabon 2013 pp29-31.