It's hard to summon up too much sympathy for the Stockport witches who, according to a report in the Telegraph, were turned down by a Catholic-run venue when they tried to book the facility for their annual Ball.
Says High Priestess Sandra Davis (or Amethyst Selma Selene, as she's known in pagan circles) who runs the Crystal Cauldron shop/coven,
It makes you think that there is still a little bit of that attitude from the past of the Catholics wanting to burn witches. I thought we had made progress, that we could accept other people's religious paths.
Well, four hundred years ago witch-hunters associated with the Inquisition sentenced thousands of entirely innocent people to death for "witchcraft". Today, a church representative suggests that pagan revivalists find a secular venue for their annual shindig. I'd call that progress.
According to Shrewsbury Diocese spokesman John Joyce, "parish centres under our auspices let their premises on the understanding users and their organisations are compatible with the ethos and teachings of the Catholic church". Quite. And it's easy to imagine the kind of headlines that would have followed if the event had gone ahead as originally planned. The Daily Mail would presumably have rung up Ann Widdecombe, who would duly have obliged by accusing the diocesan authorities of "pandering to politically correct multi-faith sensibilities. They'll be inviting Richard Dawkins to speak there next." Meanwhile Damian Thompson would surely have used the occasion as more evidence of the corrosive power of liberal bishops, and urged his groupies to appeal to the Pope.
What puzzles me is why the Wiccan group wanted to be associated with a Catholic venue to begin with. Does not the Roman Catholic faith, with its all-male, hierarchical priesthood, its sexual hang-ups, its patriarchal God and, yes, its history of witch-hunting go against everything that these witches are supposed to believe in? Perhaps Ms Davis and her fellow Wiccans were confused by the hall's name, Our Lady's, and supposed that it was some sort of reference to the Goddess they revere. Or perhaps they're hoping for some free publicity.
With that suspicion in mind, it's interesting to note that this story didn't make the press until after the Crystal Cauldronites were set up in a new venue and started selling tickets to the October bash. "Don't delay : Tickets are selling fast", says the message on their website, which gives further details of the event, which includes a buffet, the Crowning of their new Witch Queen and live entertainment from "tribute duo Abba Fusion". All for £12.50, children half price. Abba Fusion, to judge by the picture, impersonate Agnetha and Anni-Frid rather than Bjorn and Benny, in case you need an added incentive. Quite what the connection is between Abba and paganism I'm not sure. Perhaps Dancing Queen may be taken as a reference to ancient pagan goddesses whose worship included ecstatic dance.
In fact, the Crystal Cauldron sounds depressingly conventional. Besides their fondness for 1970s pop and dressing up in medieval gowns, the notion of a Witch Queen strikes me as rather elitist and hierarchical. Or is she chosen on her looks, thus pandering to patriarchal-hegemonic notions of female beauty (not to mention the poor self-esteem it will engender in those witches who do not become "queen")? Elsewhere on their website, I learn that the group is "a non-skyclad, drug-free coven". In other words, they keep their clothes on. Minus their Harry Potter-style cloaks, they could be members of the W.I.