Thursday, 18 June 2009

Witch-hunts aint what they used to be


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.

20 comments:

Fencewalker said...

Presumably W.I. = Witches International?
Thought I'd get there first.

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

Couldn't they cast a spell or something so that the Shrewsbury Diocese would be enchanted into letting them use the venue?

Well, four hundred years ago witch-hunters associated with the Inquisition sentenced thousands of entirely innocent people to death for "witchcraft".

How do we know they were entirely innocent? Certainly we would not accept the process as being free and fair today but they were convicted by a court of law.

Don't forget that we used to hang witches in this country not burn them alive.

The Heresiarch said...

Woolly:

1) The Catholic Church was never involved in witch-hunts in this country. In continental Europe, where the Inquisition was sometimes involved, burning was a a regular sentence.

2) How do we know they were innocent? Because spells don't work. You can't make cattle barren or send storms by laying curses, even if you wanted to. There were "guilty" witches - who supplied potions - in places like Italy. But they were always a very small proportion of the whole, and they were never the victims of witch-hunts, merely regular criminal trials.

Anonymous said...

Well done to the Church for refusing this event. Witches are pagans... they can't expect to be allowed to use Church-run premises. It would be an embarrassment to the Church. They have got a cheek to complain!

valdemar said...

I wondered whether you'd jump on this one, H. I had my buggerallmoney on another story, actually - the Bournemouth motion-sensor sabbath crisis.

Re: witches and Abba, the links are apparent to anyone who is alert to the ways of the Evil One.

'Can you hear the drums, Fernando?'
'Yes, missy - voodoo is strong tonight!'

'Look into his angel eyes,
one look and you're hypnotised...'
Surely a reference to the Archangel Lucifer?

'Gimmme gimme a man after midnight'
i.e. during the witching hour for the sort of vile, kinky, orgiastic sex good Christians can only, erm, not think about incessantly.

Mamma Mia - or Magna Mater?!?
I don't know, but I think we should be told.

The Heresiarch said...

I bow to your awe-inspiring knowledge of Abba lyrics, Valdemar. But I also worry slightly.

Dekka Draper said...

Perhaps he hangs round with Iain Fale at Abba fan conventions.

spellcaster said...

I run a coven in Wigan called Triple Moon, and we hire a church hall on a regular basis, to hold our festivals. The church are aware of who and what we are, and have always shown us respect. We have never faced discrimination, or hostility. If one church can do it they all can.

Keith said...

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.


In view of the way that early Catholicism blatantly muscled in on pagan beliefs - placing the birth of their God around the Midwinter Solstice (the rebirth of the sun), worshiping a god who falls into the earth and rises again on the first sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (remarkably like the Corn Spirit), and building many of their churches on sacred pagan sites, is it entirely unreasonable? And do you really believe that the veneration of the Virgin Mary, particularly in Medieval times, had nothing to do with a similarity to the Mother Goddess.

Given that Church halls are usually one of the cheaper venues to hire, and that this group probably do not have unlimited funds, I do not think this is an unreasonable pay-back request.

Edwin Moore said...

Goodness me that looks like a fun party - haud me back. Is the lady at the front channeling Harry Lauder with a knobbly stick?

They could try the local mosque - free djinns and tonic all round!

Edwin Moore said...

Oh and Woolly, though the English indeed hung witches, they were burned in Scotland.

James VI (your James I) tried to unify witch-hunting practices in the new united kingdom, but the English lost the stomach for persecution long before the Scots did (Cromwell's administrators in Scotland were shocked at the prevalence of witch trials).

Amethyst said...

Firstly can I say that we are not a Wiccan group we are Traditional Witch's following the 'Well worn path of the Craft' Secondly I was totally unaware that the Social Club was run by a Catholic Church unitl I telephoned to book the room and when I found out I explained exacly who we were and what and they said it didnt matter as it was a totally separate business and that it did not matter what we did with or in the room when we had paid for the hire. This was not done for any other reason except to find a Venue that fitted our criteria. It also has nothing what so ever to do with moving to a new building what ever that has got to with anything . The whole thing as been blown totally out of proportion and has totally shocked me. It is a Social Club not a Church Hall, it has a dance floor, a bar and a stage and is on the ground floor, perfect for what we required. I was very surprised when I found out who run the club that the booking was accepted. Perhaps this may clear a few misunderstandings. Sandra Davies

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

The Heresiarch said...
2) How do we know they were innocent? Because spells don't work. You can't make cattle barren or send storms by laying curses, even if you wanted to. There were "guilty" witches - who supplied potions - in places like Italy. But they were always a very small proportion of the whole, and they were never the victims of witch-hunts, merely regular criminal trials.

While we can be sure beyond all reasonable doubt that magic spells don't work this does not mean that those convicted of witchcraft knew what they were doing was harmless. We don't let people get away with conspiracy to murder or attempted murder just because their methods are unscientific nonsense that will not work.

There is evidence that placing a "curse" on someone who believes in such things and is part of a society that believes in such things can be harmful even to the point of death.

Religion is mostly harmless now, but only because these days hardly anybody really believes in it except a few mentally ill types.

Amethyst said...

WoollyMindedLiberal I find you totally offensive in your remarks against both religious people and people with mental dissabilites.

I have spent over 20 years of my life caring for two of my granddaughter with special needs, no fault of their own. And there are many others, I feel this group has allowed you to cross the line here.

You should be ashamed at what you have written here today

The Heresiarch said...

@ Woolly. You clearly have no idea what you're talking about. "Witches and Neighbours" by Robin Briggs is the best general account of what the witch trials were all about, if you'd like to educate yourself.

Religion is mostly harmless now, but only because these days hardly anybody really believes in it except a few mentally ill types.

That's pushing things a bit far even for you. Most religious believers aren't the least bit mentally ill, as I'm sure you're well aware.

@Amethyst: sorry. Don't take what Woolly says personally, though.

asquith said...

Is it just me, or is there really a new wave of people joining Blogger for the sole purpose of commenting on this article?

Edwin Moore said...

Amethyst, Woolly is a somewhat abrasive personality and indeed has fired a few fierce salvoes at me, but he's not a bad lad - he is a liberal with teeth and that takes a bit of getting used to.

Re the hall, have just asked our eldest what she thought the reaction would be of the Church of Scotland committee who rent out their hall down the road to a wiccan group, and she reckons there would be no problem at all with a gathering and dance (but no booze).

You wouldn't be allowed across the threshold of many Highland Protestant churches, however (I would guess the piskies would be sympathetic).

Incidentally, not a single witch was burned in Catholic areas in Scotland in the 17th/18th century - it seems to have been a wholly Protestant phenomenon in Scotland, not sure why that was.

Anyway good luck, and am sure that we all on this thread (including Woolly) wish you and your family well.

WoollyMindedLiberal said...

Amethyst said...
WoollyMindedLiberal I find you totally offensive in your remarks against both religious people and people with mental dissabilites.

I said nothing about mental disability. Please withdraw that slur.


You should be ashamed at what you have written here today.

Except that I did not. You have accused me falsely.

Pagan Cowboy Joe said...

As a pagan myself, I'm a little unsure why they would have chosen the venue. It isn't because I would not want association with the church, but more because I already understand that even though they respect our right to believe as we wish, they are still opposed to it.

I don't think the church was wrong in their choice. It is THEIR venue.

pineapple09 said...

Evidently Witches and Catholics must get the ratings.

What about the Continuing Banking crisis and all those publicly funded bonuses.