Last night the ABC news program Nightline ran a “Sign of the Times” segment featuring Sgt Simon Wood of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom. Wood is a member of the Pagan Police Association, an organization that formed in 2009 and was officially recognized as a Diversity Staff Support Association in 2010.
The report mentions the tabloid-headline generating Metropolitan Police diversity handbook, which discusses the fact that some Pagans practice skyclad, and may be bound and blindfolded during rituals, and (inaccurately) references the UK Charity Commission’s approval of The Druid Network‘s application for religious charity status as Paganism “being given the status of a religion” (Pagan faiths in Britain were already recognized as legitimate religions long before that).
While it’s nice to see a mainstream news outlet pay some attention to gains made by modern Pagans, the segment was something of a flashback for me. The announcer invoking “goats blood” at the introduction, the overly theatrical narrator, and the flashing jump-cuts that emphasize the strangeness of Pagan ritual all brought to mind the more sensationalist days when network news channels would go out to find a Witch for Halloween and bring the smoke-machines along for added effect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not horrible, but it also could have been much better. There was very much a tone that set modern Pagans up as a strange fringe phenomenon. Then again, Nightline isn’t exactly the pinnacle of serious news reporting any longer, as they are devoting their Summer coverage to psychics, exorcism, and out-of-body experiences. So I suppose a report on Druids, with mention of naked initiation rituals, hit the sweet spot for them.
Maybe I’m expecting too much, but a nice sit-down interview in the studio, one that confronts various issues but avoids trying to be cute or salacious, would be a nice change of pace.
“Considering that they spent quite a lot of time with me throughout the day and filmed the whole ceremony they could have made a longer film. But then how many regular watchers for their program [would] watch an hour on witchcraft? At least it is of a positive nature rather than the usual pap we normally get. I agreed to do it simply to try and get more positive things out there about Pagans in general.”
I’d like to thank Sgt. Wood for sharing his perspective, and for his service.