UNITED KINGDOM –In the United Kingdom, “God Save the Queen” (or king, depending upon the current monarch) has been considered the national anthem since the early 19th century. It is used for the combined kingdom by custom only and for England alone when referred to during athletic competitions and the like. The other three portions of the United Kingdom — Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland — already sport their own anthems.Recently, members of Parliament have agreed to consider replacing the song as the anthem for England alone. Under the new proposal, “God Save the Queen” would continue to be used when the four act as one body, such as during the Olympic games. The Wild Hunt asked some English Pagans what they think of the current debate, and what they might like to see “God Save the Queen” replaced with, if anything.
In supporting the idea, Labour minister Toby Perkins said it would “re-establish the idea that the United Kingdom is a union of four separate nations with their own identities,” and that he personally favors “Jerusalem,” with words written by William Blake. Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg fears it will lead to “individual nationalism” within the United Kingdom, and told reporters:
What greater pleasure can there be for a true-born Englishman or true-born Englishwoman than to listen to our own national anthem —a national anthem for our whole country, our whole United Kingdom.
Readers in the United States may be familiar with periodic attempts to remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance, or “in God we trust” from the currency; these movements — sometimes supported by Pagans — are often led by atheists and have typically resulted in court decisions supporting “secular deism.” In the United Kingdom, while some of the Pagans commented on the use of the word “god” from a monotheistic perspective, others were more focused on the fact that the song is royalist in character.
“This kind of thing comes up on a regular basis,” said scholar Michael York. “As a royalist, I would be opposed. And I agree with Rees-Mogg that it would splinter British unity even further. I would not expect Perkins proposal to have the majority of the English behind it. They tend to favour the maintenance of tradition.”
While York was born in the United States and now resides in England, Anton Stewart has made the opposite journey. Stewart is High Priest of the Church of the Eternal Circle, and he largely agreed with York’s assessment, saying:
Not the first time this issue has raised its head. Unlikely that there will be any change. Sure the bill can be proposed, but I wouldn’t rate its chances through the House of Commons, let alone the House of Lords. As long as the United Kingdom remains a united kingdom, then the UK’s national anthem is not likely to be usurped. There are lots of other patriotic, quasi-anthems that are used at various sporting events and rallies where the individual ‘nations’ that make up the UK are participating in their own right… Men of Harlech is actually the Welsh National Anthem and Scotland The Brave is far more commonly used than Flower of Scotland.
Jo Hollingsworth, one of several English Pagans asked their views on Facebook, is of a different mind than York, saying, “The national anthem should not be about a single person. It should be something that people are proud to join in with. I think the current anthem is irrelevant and depressing. It has no meaning to most people these days. As someone who would be very happy to see the end of our monarchy I will not sing this song. Ever. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be British or English or indeed both.”
Sarah Kay of the Nottingham Pagan Network canvassed those in her group to find out their opinions. She reported that in general, members feel that the anthem “is relatively inoffensive unless you have especially strong political feelings about the monarchy. Certainly ‘God’ is only mentioned in passing and even then only in his capacity to strengthen and fortify the Queen so that her reign may be stronger and longer.”
For her part, Helen Clipson also thought this sounded very familiar. “This comes round at least once a year, usually at the time the rugby is on telly and people realise that the England Rugby team sing Jerusalem.”
While most interviewees focused on the royalist implications of “God Save the Queen,” some were troubled by the Christian sensibilities of “Jerusalem.” Kay said:
The Pagans we canvassed were more concerned about the suggestion of replacing ‘God Save The Queen’ with ‘Jerusalem’ by William Blake where the Christian religious overtone is far more overt and in fact carries the implication that should Jesus have actually visited England it would be cause for celebration that Christianity should gain supremacy over the nation, presumably by the use of might and power. The pagan view seems that it was England’s own pagan heritage that was once already usurped by such heavy handed Christianity and countless pagans have suffered under that yoke for centuries since. Although some of the pagans we asked did prefer ‘Jerusalem’ to the current national anthem but with changes to the wording make it less Christian.
Straddling the royalists and monotheist concerns were views like those expressed by Jackie Palman, who wrote on Facebook, “I would prefer a national anthem that was about our country rather than about our monarchy. I wouldn’t like Jerusalem as it feels to Christian to me. I used to think Land of Hope & Glory would be a good national anthem, but some of the lyrics are rather colonialist. I can’t think of an existing song which I think would fit the bill but I would like it to be something that doesn’t exclude people of different religions or none, or people who think we should be a republic.”
Megan Mills, however, likes “Jerusalem,” albeit ironically: “I wouldn’t mind ‘Jerusalem’ as our English national anthem. I like William Blake, the tune is good, and it brings back fond memories of singing it in school and making sure we roared ‘chariot of FIRE’ as loud as possible and did our best scary black metal voice for ‘SATANIC mills!'”
The question got Joanna van der Hoeven of the UK Druid College to thinking. “As a landed immigrant to the UK, I find this an interesting question. When I first came across the lyrics, I saw how terribly outdated they were: they were about saving a different Queen long dead, and helping Marshal Wade to destroy the Scots. What relevance does that have today? An anthem that has relevance to today, and without reference to crushing rebellious Scottish folk, might be a nice change. It’s odd though, that such a secular country albeit with a strong religious past still holds onto its outdated anthem. If they truly want to separate religion and state, then this needs to be addressed.”
While many of those who weighed in believe it’s not at all likely that this will get any traction in the houses of Parliament, it didn’t stop them from suggesting alternatives. In addition to those who think “Jerusalem” might work, there were also suggestions like “Land of Hope and Glory,” and many that ranged further afield. Some that stand out: changing the words of the current to be “Goddess Save the Queen,” the Sex Pistols version of “Freedom Come All Ye,” “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. Then there was this observation by Hywel James: “Whatever the lyrics,” he said, “I want it to the tune of ‘Nelly the Elephant.'”