Archives For Damian Thompson

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. But first, let me offer my prayers and support to the people of Japan, who just suffered8.9 magnitude earthquake, and all those potentially affected by subsequent tsunamis in the Pacific basin. For updates, resources, and information, check out the Google Crisis Response page.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Back in November the Telegraph’s blog editor and alleged religion reporter Damian Thompson kicked off a tempest-in-a-teapot over whether the BBC was “sucking up” to Pagans during the Halloween/Samhain season. This is apparently part of the perennial British media sport of BBC bashing, but UK Pagans were unamused at Thompson’s undisguised ignorant venom and made complaints to the aptly named Press Complaints Commission. Thompson, a conservative Catholic, was apparently wounded deeply at Pagans daring to complain about anything he writes, and has lashed out in the only way he knows how; in a spiteful anti-Pagan editorial masquerading as review of Elizabeth Dodd’s “Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers”.

“I should make it clear that Wicca & Witchcraft: Understanding the dangers by Elizabeth Dodd doesn’t make any silly cracks about broomsticks. But I can’t resist. There’s no eco-bore like a Wiccan eco-bore. I’ve met a few and, believe me, you need to be under a spell to sit through a three-hour whinge about Mother Gaia from a practitioner of white magick. It makes one long for the days when witches restricted themselves to a quick cackle before riding off into the night. (Just kidding, witches and pagans! Seriously, last time I had a go at them they reported me to the Press Complaints Commission, which proved resistant to their magick.) [...] she’s not buying any of its [Wicca's] bullshit about being descended from prehistoric totemic and animist religion…”

He also posts a picture of an ugly witch from the film “The Witches” with the caption “Peace be with you!” because that joke never gets old! Seriously! Never! A huge laugh every time. I can’t imagine how proud The Telegraph is of this blog post.

It’s very clear what’s going on here, Damian Thomspon had his feeling hurt. You may not know this, but religion reporters are a deeply sensitive lot, especially if they are also expected to blog on a regular basis. He had no idea that blithely branding Pagans as feminist Satanic racist Nazis when making a point about the BBC’s coverage would actually offend us. That the invites to tea would stop, that he’d no longer get friendly invites to fire circles, throwing his social calendar into ruins. This is clearly a cry for help. Positively reviewing shoddy re-hashed anti-Pagan books is one of the sure signs. So let’s put a stop to this madness now. Damian, if you’re reading this, all you have to do is say you’re sorry for acting like an spoilt ignorant child, and we’ll all work together to put this behind us.

The BBC in the UK, like many news-gathering organizations around the world, spent some time covering modern Pagans during the Halloween/Samhain season. I thought their article by religion correspondent Robert Pigott was pretty standard stuff, meet the Pagans, talk about Samhain, interview Ronald Hutton, mention some recent stories Pagans have appeared in, and wrap it up. But it appears I’m wrong, the article, according to Damian Thompson, a religion reporter and blogging editor for the Telegraph, was an “utterly fawning” exercise in sucking up to Pagans.

“But this potted history of paganism is very heavily sanitised. There’s no mention at all of the overlap between paganism and various forms of Satanism – or the much broader overlap with the far Right. In northern Europe, some pagan movements have celebrated Aryan cultural and racial purity for the best part of a century. In the words of the historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of a brilliant study of the Neo-Nazi movement entitled Black Sun, Nordic racial paganism or Odinism is a “spiritual rediscovery of the Aryan ancestral gods … intended to embed the white races in a sacred worldview that supports their tribal feeling”, and expressed in “imaginative forms of ritual magic and ceremonial forms of fraternal fellowship”.

Needless to say, the white witches of Weymouth celebrated by the BBC are deeply opposed to this variety of paganism. But over the years there have been ferocious ideological battles between Lefty, feminist pagans and their racially obsessed but equally Green Odinist rivals, and there has been more contact between the two camps than the official representatives of British paganism would care to acknowledge.

Hours after Thompson, who is also director of the deeply conservative Catholic Herald, lets fly with his threadbare conspiracy theories involving Paganism and baffling BBC-bashing, the Telegraph runs an article seemingly constructed largely from press releases by The Christian Institute and the Christian Legal Centre.

But the decision to give so much air-time to a minority event has raised eyebrows at a time of a 16 per cent cut in the corporation’s budget. It also brought into question how the BBC reacted to more traditional religious events. Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “It’s not always healthy to represent such beliefs as paganism as mainstream, particularly when our national faith is so often pushed to the edges, “It’s vital that our national broadcaster remembers our great Christian heritage and all the precepts that come from it that are good for the nation. I would like to see this more clearly recognised.”

Before you can say “wag the dog” the “controversy” is getting noticed by Gawker, and the Daily Mail, never one to miss out on a good controversy involving Pagans, does a barely adequate re-write of the Telegraph piece.

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: ‘It’s not always healthy to represent such beliefs as paganism as mainstream, particularly when our national faith is so often pushed to the edges. ‘It’s vital that our national broadcaster remembers our great Christian heritage and all the precepts that come from it that are good for the nation. I would like to see this more clearly recognised.’ The decision to allow so much air-time to the minority event in Weymouth, Dorset, was questioned at a time of a 16 per cent cut in the corporation’s budget.

See what I mean? As for the controversy, and the supposed “marginalization” of Christians (you don’t see us complaining about being marginalized during Christmas or Easter), would there even be an uproar if it weren’t for the Telegraph’s own conservative Catholic blogger (who is never mentioned in the later article) and the instantly available pull-quotes from two conservative Christian organizations? It just seems desperately manufactured, an opinion that is only strengthened by the fact that the Telegraph and the Daily Mail (again following the Telegraph’s lead) are both currently (and luridly) covering the story of a diversity handbook given to police officers that includes Pagans.

“The PC’s guide to arresting a witch: It’s normal for people to be naked, bound and blindfolded and whatever you do, don’t touch their book of spells…”

You get the picture. As for the BBC, as spokesperson remarked that “we don’t have anything to say on this.” To which I say: I’m proud of the BBC.

ADDENDUM: BBC editor Kevin Bakhurst responds at greater length to accusations of “neglecting” Christianity.

“It was Halloween. A good chance, we thought, to explore the background to paganism. I would simply suggest that the decision to cover some aspects of paganism on one day indicates an interest in the fact there is in the UK a range of faiths – and among some a lack of faith. Our reporting should be seen in the context of BBC News’s wider coverage of religion and religious events where stories, as ever, are based on topicality and editorial merit. And Christianity – being the country’s main religion – still remains the faith with the most coverage.”

Bakhurst also notes that the BBC got flak for giving too much coverage to the Pope’s recent visit, maybe the Christian critics were too busy reading the Daily Mail to notice that distinct lack of marginalization?