Calling all warriors: Pagans in the UK’s anti-fracking campaigns

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UNITED KINGDOM — On Oct. 6 this year, the British Government granted fracking company Cuadrilla permission to begin operations at two sites in Lancashire (north-west England). This decision, taken by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, overturned a previous decision made by the Lancashire County Council to grant permission at just one of the two proposed sites.

Under the banner of Frack Free Lancashire, a coalition of local anti-fracking groups has formed. Included in the coalition is the inimitable mothers and grandmothers group The Nanas. Nana is a British colloquialism for grandmother and frequently used in the north-west of England.The Nanas used this term because they wanted to invoke the spirit of the typical Lancastrian matriarch synonymous with the county.

Frack Free Lancashire Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

Frack Free Lancashire Demonstration [Courtesy Photo]

Among the many anti-fracking groups involved, there is the Pagan-focused group The Warrior’s Call (TWC), who has campaigned hard to get local voices against the fracking sites heard. We spoke to Alan from TWC to discuss the group’s involvement with the Lancashire campaign, and how they intend to move forward.

“TWC was set up by someone, who isn’t me, to be a focus for Pagans on the topic of fracking,” says Alan. “What the originator found was that a lot of Pagans don’t take a lot of notice of the papers or the BBC but listen to what other Pagans are saying, so the group was set up as a way of saying ‘this matters’ and being able to give it a voice to talk to other Pagans.

“It wasn’t ever intended to be a separate group. It’s for whoever feels the call to step up and defend their land in a magical or physical way. They’re answering the warriors call, so anyone who connects with that kind of protection.”

Frack Free Lancashire (FFL) ran a successful campaign uniting lots of different local anti-fracking groups against the granted permission to frack at one of the two proposed sites. The decision to overturn that ruling was disappointing, but not a surprise, according to Alan.

He says, “It’s expected that the industry is going to challenge. This happened in Wrexham in 2014. There was a site, just outside Wrexham in North East Wales on the border with England, which had been outlined for exploratory drilling. Local people put up a big campaign. The council turned it down.

“The company put in an appeal and the Government overruled the local council. That overruling sparked a massive local interest, because not only was it Government overturning the local council but the English deciding what is happening on Welsh soil.”

Alan thinks it is too early to say if these over-rulings from Westminster are a pattern or not. But he did say that the watershed Balcombe fracking protests of 2013 in West Sussex, Southern England, have ensured that campaigners are much more “clued up and found out what’s really going on” regarding the fracking industry.

One way the anti-frack movement tracks information is to identify where seismic testing is being carried out, and where Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences are being issued. PEDL licences are issued for a specific parcel of land where a company thinks gas or shale may be found. Seismic testing, which involves drilling shot holes about 30 feet deep and then filling the holes with dynamite, offers the data needed to build up a picture of where optimal places to extract might be located. According to Alan, this is also a big clue for anti-frackers as it involves a serious financial commitment on the part of the company and shows “they intend to drill there.”

Education is a big part of TWC message. Ensuring that people are properly informed about the effects of fracking is key. Much of the UK Government’s rhetoric in support of fracking has been to stress the number of jobs the industry will create.

However, as Alan explains, “Fracking is a specialised job, and [the companies] have to keep moving on. So there are no permanent jobs to come out of it. Once the initial set up is complete it runs on computer. One person can control about four sites. It’s not as if they’ll need more people to work in the sandwich or chip shop. Once the gas has gone, they move on.”

Australia, which has a much longer history of fracking than the UK, has already come to this conclusion. “In New South Wales, they banned fracking.They showed that for every 10 jobs created by the industry, 19 were lost from tourism or agriculture.”

Anti Fracking Protest in Chesire 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Anti Fracking Protest in Chesire 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

In the UK, one fracking company has already come unstuck due to its own claims. Alan says, “Somewhere in the South East, one company sent out a promotional leaflet about the benefits of fracking, which got pulled up by the Advertising Standards Agency.” According to Alan, the leaflet had based its information on then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s rhetoric about fracking.

“So basically the policy had been rubbished by the Advertising Standards Agency,” Alan chuckles.

Since the overruling in Lancashire, FFL has been intent on keeping the story in the public eye. The formidable Lancashire Nanas went down to London and camped outside Buckingham Palace. Alan got one of his local councillors to visit the Lancashire site with him, which led to an interview with Russia Today, as well as an increase in local coverage.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the anti-fracking campaign is the cross-pollination of ideas between different groups. Alan says, “[Anti-fracking campaigning] is a gateway into other things. People that are getting involved in opposing fracking are from ordinary life, as [they get involved] they realise the system doesn’t work like they think it does, and once they’ve goten over that they see injustices in other things.”

He continues, “What I’m seeing is that people come and get involved with fracking and move toward a Pagan way of thinking. I’ve seen a lot of people come through the camp, and they say they’re ‘almost Pagan’ and feel a good connection to the Earth, and loving trees, and loving water and loving air. And, although they’re not joining a coven or an order, or training or learning anything they are becoming genuinely Earth-loving, so there can be a massive boost to British Paganism in general.”

Alan compares this process to Gweir’s prison, referenced in the poem Preiddu Annfwn/The Spoils of Annwn. He explains, “Once your eyes are open though, and you see through the fallacy of what you thought life was, I don’t know if you can go back and close your eyes again. The first line of The Mabinogion is that Pwll feels the call to go hunting, and he responds to that call. He doesn’t decide to go hunting. He responds to the call, ‘He takes it into his heart and his head to go hunting that day.’

“It’s touched on in The Spoils of Annwn. The initiate is held in a prison of their own making, thinking that I have to go work, I have to have a car. Once you have engaged with this, and you’ve seen what the world is like then you’ve broken out of the prison and you’ve shattered that wall.”

Alan believes that the anti-fracking campaigning community also has much to teach Paganism – especially regarding group structure. He says, “We’re encouraging people through the Warrior’s Call to learn about what fracking is and to get involved with their local communities. We’re also encouraging people to look at consensus decision-making and horizontal structure to groups rather than hierarchies.

“All the groups I’m a member of now operate in that way. There’s no one in charge, there’s no leader and we decide by majority. This goes against how most groves and covens are structured as they are hierarchical and I don’t know if that could feed into Paganism. There is a lot of opportunity for crossover and for new ideas to come in now. If they work people can take them into other areas.”

Although the FFL campaign will now change its focus in terms of campaigning, the fight goes on. A fracking approval has recently gone through in Nottinghamshirem in central England, which TWC will be campaigning against.

The movement has produced a network of very committed people. As Alan explains, “One of the things we say, whether fracking goes ahead or doesn’t go ahead, is we can have this structure to campaign on why the local hospital is closing, or the local playground, and these structures are ready to go.

“It’s about driving power into the community again, rather than the people who you voted for three years ago deciding for you. It’s about setting up these groups that can do other things, so even if fracking goes, the network is still there. Part of the nine aims of the Warrior’s Call.”

Renewing the warrior's call 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Renewing the warrior’s call 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Alan stresses the importance of getting involved with local activism. “Pagans that I know of tend to turn up for the rituals but don’t get involved in the campaigning. Ritual is action, action is ritual. You have to give the help you requested from your spirits or your gods, you have to give that away to come through. You have to physically go and make this come about.”

He continues, “Once Pagans move in Pagan circles, in my experience, they tend to remove themselves from the contemporary world. Pagans tend to remove themselves and form their own society, and I think the warrior’s call is pulling people back into the community and saying, ‘You’ve got training and knowledge and spirits, come back into this world and use your skills for the benefit of this world and the land you’re on.’ ”

Alan adds that there is so much people can do. “The stereotypical thing is that you go and chain yourself to a lorry, and some people will want to do that, but there are so many other areas that need help as well, such as becoming a legal observer. They cannot be arrested and it’s vitally important role.

“There is quite a bit of social change involved with the Warrior’s Call. It’s not just about doing a ritual and then going home, or even doing a ritual and then chaining yourself to a lorry, there are different angles to it.”

This interaction between Paganism and activism can make for magical results. Alan says, “At the Upton Protection Camp [the base camp in Chester] we did a massive ritual. There weren’t that many Pagans there, it was mostly local people and we were going around and beating the bounds and I led everyone round the camp

“As I turned the first quarter, I turned around and saw a massive line of people behind me beating drums as if their lives depended upon it! We asked people to write a letter to state how far they were prepared to go to protect the land, and obviously, some are prepared to go further than others, it was secret and there was no disclosure, it’s not a competition or to compare.

“Then we burnt all the letters in a bonfire. After that ritual, when local people turned up to the camp to confront the people doing the seismic testing, there was a bit of a stand-off and a bit of arguing going on, and we got covered in ladybirds, they weren’t on the contractors they were on us, and they were swarming around us for about 15 minutes and then they just all went. This was at the end of September.

Alan says, “If you’ve learnt stuff from being a Pagan bring that back, use it to boost. There’s a crossover of people coming in being more sympathetic as well. As we come into mainstream society more, mainstream society moves toward us.”

The Warriors Call sigil. Image courtesy of TWC.

The Warriors Call sigil.

Author’s Note Some names have been changed to protect identity