Thursday, 16 July 2009

Pagan police and the Daily Mail

Here's a typical non-story from the Mail, now picked up everywhere else.

Police officers who practise witchcraft to get Pagan Police Association and their own religious holidays

The paper has discovered that a police officer, Andy Pardy, is in the process of setting up a group for rozzers of the pagan persuasion, and has spoken to some people from the Home Office to that purpose. But that's not really much of a story. What the Mail wants to say is along the following lines:

1) Pagans - aren't they weird? Do we want weirdos like that in the police?
2) They're getting special treatment - at taxpayers' expense, obviously
3) Political correctness in the police has gone mad - again!!!

They have no evidence for any of this, but they'll imply it anyway. The first sentence is a masterpiece of the genre, at once insinuating and irrelevant (my italics):

Policemen who have admitted using witchcraft to gain promotions at work have persuaded the Home Office to allow them to set up a Pagan Police Association.

Disappointingly, PC Pardy isn't a "witch", but rather a follower of the Norse gods such as Thor, Odin and "the god of fertility, complete with huge phallus, Freyr". And he's quoted as saying that his faith is "all about dedication to nature". But the Mail find a few things to get worked up about. For example:

The officers are even given special dispensation to take eight pagan holidays a year, including Halloween and the summer solstice.

In fact, Pardy takes his pagan days off out of his annual leave, so it hardly amounts to a special dispensation. Any officer could decide to have Halloween off. Yes, Pardy belongs to the Hertfordshire Police, "one of a number of forces which, according to critics, has put the PC into modern day policing". Indeed, Pardy himself "is also an equality and diversity representative for the force". Another box ticked.

"The police running around in capes and pointy hats using broomsticks as weapons, this country becomes a bigger farce every other day," opined "Frank" in the comments. "No wonder the rest of the world is laughing at us." The kind of Pavlovian response they were hoping for, no doubt.

They must be able to do better than that? And indeed they can. They've found another pagan copper, Andy Hill, who is launching a website next month, "said he wants to publish details of his spells to help colleagues gain promotion or overcome illness". Hence that bizarre first sentence with its suggestion that some police were improperly exercising magical powers. It reminds me of a comment by Ronald Hutton, historian and witchcraft expert, who said that whenever he told people - including academic colleagues - about his research into the origins of Wicca and other versions of modern paganism, the one thing above all they wanted to know was, "Do their spells really work?"

More evidence of the authorities going soft on witchcraft includes the provision, since last year, of a "pagan oath" for use in courts. Instead of swearing "so help me God", the formula goes "by all I hold sacred". Do you have to be a pagan to use it? We all hold something sacred, after all. I hope somebody decides to swear the oath on a dog-eared copy of The God Delusion.