Imagine, if you will, a country where the adherents of its native spiritual tradition are close to invisible. This is not some miracle, merely a fact of life. For these people are studiously ignored by their government, politicians (even the one who prides himself on working to foster respect between religions), the leaders of other religions, even the majority of their fellow subjects.
These people have no representative voice when religious leaders are gathered together, any more than they have official recognition within the legal framework. Indeed, it is within living memory that it was illegal for some adherents of this tradition to practice and to worship. All this despite the fact that they outnumber many of the introduced religions.
You might be forgiven for wondering why they worry about this. They are, after all, a peaceful community renowned for their quiet ways and their tolerance of others. But they suffer much more than the ignorance of politicians. These people are constantly under attack. They have been shouted at in the streets and spat upon, they have lost their jobs, had their children taken into care, some have had their businesses attacked, their sacred sites have been desecrated. Some have even been driven to suicide because of the vituperation that has been poured upon them.
The attacks are mostly low level, but they are nonetheless unrelenting. These people are slandered with impunity and their character and beliefs are outrageously misrepresented in all forms of media. Newspapers love to portray them as unbalanced, whilst writers of fiction often use them as convenient and sinister villains. All treat the facts as disposable when they become inconvenient (if they ever knew what they were in the first place).
This country exists, yet I have never come across any example of an organization or movement dedicated to defending these people's rights. Some are beginning to do it for themselves, but it is an uphill struggle. They are close to invisible and the government and the media when they are not ignoring them simply will not take them seriously.
The country? Britain. The people? The many thousands of pagans who live there and who have deeply held spiritual and religious beliefs based on the ways of their ancestors. They are deeply respectful of the land, devoted to peaceful co-existence with all forms of life, and extremely active in caring for our natural heritage. They are dedicated to the Truth.
Pagan is, of course, a catch-all term. Whilst there are a number who follow paths not native to these shores, the majority of British pagans have their beliefs and practices rooted deeply in their native soil.
In an age when religious freedom and tolerance are very much to the fore, and when governments are keen to show they are making an effort to listen to and accommodate the thoughts and beliefs of others, the plight of pagans is all the more alarming. This is not because they are likely to be jailed, slaughtered, or driven out of their own country. It is not because they are likely to become violent.
What is truly alarming is that the British government and other leaders can be so deliberately blind to so many people, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of hard-working, taxpaying, law-abiding subjects. What is worse is that the established religion can still be so ignorant and intolerant of those who follow other ways, especially those who acknowledge the Goddess. What is most frightening of all is that even some readers of this will have stopped by now as the mental shutters come crashing down.
Pagans, after all, are all a bit deranged. Aren't they? They are silly children playing with forces they don't understand. Satanists and demon worshippers. People who watch too much of the wrong sort of television.
To begin with, Satanists are not pagans. Satanists belong firmly within the Judeo-Christian tradition along with the hellfire and damnation evangelists. As for the rest. Well, there are pagans who do daft things. But I have yet to hear of a pagan who killed an abortionist because murder is a sin (think about it). I have yet to hear of a pagan who believes the way to paradise is by flying an aeroplane full of people into a building. I have yet to hear of a pagan who has blessed weapons and declared any sort of war or conflict to be righteous and holy. I have yet to hear of any pagan who tore down the church or temple of another faith.
That is not because pagans are perfect little goody-two-shoes. We all have our faults. But we also have enormous strengths. We are intelligent, peaceful, inventive, and most of us have learned to live in a way that reduces harm to the world and tension within communities. That is one reason we have become invisible. But that is no reason why we should be ignored when we have so much that is positive to offer to the life of the country.
This, then, is a plea for tolerance and inclusion to be extended to those whose spiritual tradition is rooted in British soil. A tradition which predates all those religions that have since been welcomed to these shores. And next time you hear the word pagan, don't jump to conclusions, don't switch your mind off and keep us invisible. Take a little time, instead, to find out the truth.