Glastonbury Festival and Faith

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The Glastonbury Festival in England, operating since 1970, is one of the largest outdoor festivals in the world. The last festival in 2005 (they took a year off in 2006) drew around 150,000 people (though gate-crashers have inflated these numbers to nearly double that at previous festivals), and it is considered by many to be the yearly high-point for alternative culture in the UK. Since the festival was founded during the hippie era, counter-cultural views and a generally open view of spirituality has been encouraged. One of the staples of the festival is the “healing area” where tarot readings, shamanic journeys, meditation areas, and chanting exercises are provided.

“Within the peaceful atmosphere of the Healing Area, there is an exciting blend of healing arts and spiritual/therapeutic orientations as well as fiery celebrations and play. The area is designed as an elemental mandala of Fire, Air, Earth and Water. Each of these circles express a distinct quality of healing which you can experience as you move through the field. Within each circle there is a beautiful garden and sacred space, and all workshops and events are free.”

The Healing Area is just one small part of the larger “Green Fields” where environmental attractions, crafts, and political concerns comprise the “soul” of the rock festival. As you can imagine, this has drawn the attention of Christians concerned about the spiritual effects of such “New Age” dabbling. While some have tried to engender a friendly co-existence with the festival, including “Celtic” eucharists and a Christian-themed “art group”, other Christians aren’t so sanguine about these “creative” outreach efforts.

“Celtic Spirituality is a cousin to the German Faith Movement ginned up by the Nazi “theorist” Alfred Rosenberg. The Deutsche Glaubensbewegung folks went in for horns and pelts instead of hazel-framed coracles and ivy in the hair, but whether it’s neo-druidism or neo-goddess worship or the Revd Adrian Prior-Sankey waving a wet reed, the point is the same: the feel of the wind in your face is the true voice of god and Catholic moral doctrine ain’t. All attempts to recover a pre-Christian mythology are based on resentments targeted at universal ecclesial authority, and all of them, without exception, promise emancipation from irksome moral strictures. Today’s Gaelic beech-huggers may protest that they have nothing in common with the Nazi neo-Norsemen, but their differences are superficial and unimportant. At bottom, each “recovered religion” wants to throw off the yoke of universally binding norms in order to indulge sinful liberties. Ever known a wiccan or a four-winds cultist who gave it up because the ascetical demands were too stiff? Nope. Neo-pagans fast about as often as Elks.”

The Catholic World News may have just set a new land-speed record for invoking Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies. So I guess if anyone thought the “Nazis are Pagans (not Christians)” meme wasn’t going to spread to modern Pagans can stand corrected. This seems to denote a growing split among Christians on how to deal with Pagans and other new religious movements. One camp wants to understand and build trust in hope for better relations (and eventually conversions), the other seems to be taking an increasingly adversarial stance that can erupt into abuse, threats, and intimidation (and outright violence eventually, one might assume).

But Christians aren’t the only ones with mixed emotions about the Glastonbury Festival. Some Pagans are growing ever-more alarmed at how the festival is ruining their sacred solstice rites at Stonehenge.

“I have written to the English Heritage for the second year running to complain about the disgraceful behavior of the open access for the celebration of Litha. It is a travesty that a sacred monument can be treated in this way … Not only where people yet again standing on the stones and trying to take a little home with them…But the binge drinking of party goers and the foul language ruined it to a degree, people would not even go in the stone circle … The stewards where trying their best to keep people from the stones, but there was not enough stewards around the stones to be able to protect them … Even after speaking to many druids and Wiccan’s there, many of them had been insulted and ask why they where there dressed in costume as its a party for glastonbury NOT what in fact the English heritage had allowed access for all those years ago.”

This paints a very different picture from the mainstream news reports that claimed the solstice event (which took place the day before the Glastonbury Festival) was peaceful. Could a Pagan-led campaign to have more restrictive rules concerning Stonehenge (after years of campaigning for open access) come to be? It would certainly be interesting if modern Pagans develop the same sort of ambivalence towards this “Pagan-friendly” festival that Christian groups already harbor.