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Lives Less Ordinary: meet the neo-pagans

Posted at 6:00 pm, November 14, 2011 in News

London is jam-packed full of people who make a unique contribution to our city. This week we talk to Peter and Hannah, neo-pagans.

Cries of despair rend the air – ‘Oh no!’ ‘Not again!’ They’re the pained yelps of those who have suffered this torment before. They know all too well how thisinjury feels, and they know they don’t want it inflicted on them again. ‘No!’ they continue, their voices now a mutter of resignation. ‘Not the crushed velvet!’

Hannah and Peter are curled up on a sofa talking about media coverage of their religion. Particularly the ‘attention-seekers with cheap cloaks and wands going “Wooo…” on the cover of the Daily Mail,’ says flame-haired Hannah, who peppers her sparky conversation with irreverent quips while her laidback partner sports trendy, black-framed geek-chic glasses. Together they run two neo-pagan groups: Pagan Pathfinders, a discussion group dealing with emotional issues relating to their faith, and Some Secret Place, a monthly meet-up in central London for neo-pagans who usually practice their beliefs alone. Some Secret Place allows members to ‘explore what it’s like to share their spirituality with a group,’ according to Peter. Or, in Hannah’s words, to ‘see if they play in the sandpit nicely with other children’.

Peter gets up and walks across the cosy living room to the altar. ‘You don’t have to be pagan to have one,’ Hannah points out. ‘All it is is a sacred space. Loads of people have a mantlepiece or window ledge they put special stuff on.’ In this case, it’s an intricately carved, dark wooden chest reclaimed from an Indian temple. Well, at least on top it is. ‘That’s Hannah’s,’ smiles Peter. ‘We merged our altars when we got married. This is mine underneath.’ He lifts up a throw to reveal a cheap, plywood box. ‘It’s the Argos altar. Fourteen quid, self-assembly!’

Joke over, Peter explains the altar’s contents. There’s a couple of photos of deceased relatives (‘It’s Samhain, a time of year when pagans remember loved ones who’ve died’), ‘an offering’ of a glass of gin, bronze figurines of Greek, Hindu and Egyptian gods, a glass jar of Egyptian frankincense ‘to set the tone’. Oh, and bits and bobs collected from nature.‘We revere nature as divine,’ explains Hannah. ‘Yeah,’ adds Peter.‘It means we try to live so as to treat everything and everyone around us with respect. ‘I challenge people to see the divine in their boss.’

For them, the rituals, with their chanting and invocations of gods are simply additions to that. ‘It’sall a little bit theatrical,’ explains Hannah. Peter chips in: ‘It just creates a situation in which people are moreopen to divine experience.’ And the casting of spells? ‘In all honesty, I don’t know how they work,’ offersHannah. ‘In my experience they bring about positive change. But whether that’s because it has a psychological effect on my behaviour or anything more, I don’t know.’ So why believe in them? ‘Some in the medical profession believe in far more scary things,’ counters Hannah. ‘Look at homeopathy: I can’t believe people buy into it!’ Alexi Duggins

Witchfest, the world’s largest witchcraft festival, is Saturday Nov 12 at Croydon Fairfield Halls, CR9 1DG. For info, see witchfest.net and somesecretplace.co.uk.

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