Quick Note: Inadvertently Invoking Paganism

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The Wickerman Festival in Scotland, while inspired by the cult-classic film, has very little to do with Paganism. It’s a sort of mini-Glastonbury, a family-friendly outing with a few nods to its inspiration (they burn a wicker man every year). However, it seems that organizers are having problems with the perceived “pagan” elements, despite their best secular intentions.

“…yesterday as more than 15,000 converged on an inclement south west of Scotland for the final day of The Wickerman – one of the foremost alternative music festivals – it emerged organisers have been unable to shake off concerns about its pagan roots. Two marriages made use of a controversial marrying stone on the site yesterday despite calls for it to be removed, leading to criticism that it is endorsing paganism … The highlight of the 2010 Wickerman at midnight last night was the symbolic burning of a 25ft high wicker effigy. Elements of the churchgoing community of the parish of Auchencairn and Rerrick are concerned about the triangular-shaped wedding stone placed at the base of the effigy. It is seen as a pagan alter made from granite with a hole at the top for the couples to link hands. Rev Alistair MacKichan, former minister in the parish, said his concerns were about the stone becoming a centre for pagan rituals. “The Wickerman is actually a lovely family festival,” he said. “But if you start to establish a pagan ceremonial site, so it becomes a permanent fixture, then inevitably those involved with paganism will feel they have a locus around the year and those who have been married there will have other rites of passage there.” The 60-year-old festival founder, director and farm owner, Jamie Gilroy, insists “there are no religious reasons” behind the festival.”

These concerns seem to ignore the fact that most of the weddings conducted at the “marrying stone” are humanist in nature, and aren’t Pagan in any religious sense of the term. But in way, the concerned Christians are on to something. You can’t simply invoke a film so deeply rooted in a (perceived) Pagan experience without also invoking a bit of real-live Paganism along with it. Further, the growth of a “family” festival that features marriages, merriment, and rituals outside of the purview of the local churches must make them very nervous indeed. After all, if you go to Wickerman for your rites of passage, explicitly Pagan or not, the end result is still a growingly irrelevant religious institution outside the festival structure.

I think organizers and critics alike will find that even if they remove the “marrying stone”, it won’t stop marriages on site. The natural human inclination towards collective joy can’t be repressed, or diverted, for very long. Eventually, it will find a way to express itself within, or without, the structures of the culture they live in. If the churchgoing community near the festival want to do something about all the “paganism” on display, they could either throw their own festival, or integrate into the one already near them.