Ashfield North saw 87 calls referring to Witches in 2016, and 38 in the previous year. These figures – released to the Nottingham Evening Post as part of police statistics under a freedom of information request – is extremely high compared to other parts of the country, and the reason for it remains unclear.
Local experts in the paranormal have suggested that some of these complaints relate to Witchcraft carried out in the past, but local Pagans are becoming concerned that the ordinary practices found in modern Pagan paths are also being reported as sinister.
Ashley Mortimer, director of the Nottingham Pagan Network, said, “Thirty eight reports out of 44 [paranormal incidents in Ashfield North] says more to me about the level of reporting than necessarily about the level of witchcraft activity.”
“I think people’s understanding of Witchcraft is misconstrued and has been for centuries,” Mortimer told a local reporter. “We’ve actually had a bad press for a long time.”
In that same interview, Mortimer explained to the mainstream press that “Witchcraft is a modern-day interpretation of ancient Pagan beliefs. […] It’s about believing in nature, and having the divine imminent in nature, personified and recognised as a lunar goddess and a solar god. But witchcraft is only one small part of modern-day Paganism. If you were to see someone don’t be alarmed – we’re quite happy to explain to people. But I don’t like them being seen as sinister, because it isn’t sinister.”
Mortimer also noted that Pagans are “the sixth biggest faith group in Nottinghamshire, as per the 2011 census.”
In a conversation with The Wild Hunt, Mortimer said that he thinks the complaints might be the work of one ‘serial reporter’ but that the released figures contain no specific information on what the substance of the calls to police might be.
One clue might lie in claims made by the Ashfield-based paranormal magazine Haunted. It states that its paranormal team has encountered “several potential incidents” of “Witchcraft” in the area, and at one point felt surrounded by “not very nice people.”
In an article for that magazine, James Pykett, part of the Haunted LIVE paranormal investigation team and owner of the Facebook page Haunted Nottinghamshire was quoted as saying, “It’s no surprise to be honest, we investigate all over Nottinghamshire and as most of the boys are from this area, locations are easily accessible in Ashfield and we have had lots of paranormal activity.
“As for Witchcraft, let’s just say that I can easily understand why there has been 87 reports of Witchcraft in Ashfield North.”
He did not elaborate any further. However, Jason Wall, also part of the paranormal team, added: “Recently we were on the Teversal Trail, and it felt like we were being watched, we picked up a lot of female names and it felt like we were being circled.”
However, it would seem that this was a matter of psychic impression rather than the presence of living people.
Nottingham has been in the news before in connection with complaints made against Paganism, notably an episode of ‘Satanic Panic’ in 1988, which saw a number of children taken into care from a city estate after multi-generational incest and abuse.
However, the police concluded that there was no evidence of Satanism or indeed Witchcraft being involved in that enquiry, but this was disputed by social services.The children concerned spoke of a number of structures, including underground rooms beneath churches, being the scene of Satanic ceremonies. None were found..
In 1989, the Nottingham Police/Social Services Joint Enquiry Team (JET) concluded in a report:
We had not found any physical corroborative evidence in the Broxtowe case and no longer believed the children’s diaries substantiated the claim of Satanic abuse. In our view they reflected other influences and were open to alternative interpretations. Our research indicated that nobody else [in other countries] had found corroborative physical evidence either.
All the evidence for its existence appears to be based upon disturbed children and adults claiming involvement during interviews by social workers, psychiatrists, and Church Ministers who already themselves believed in its existence. It seemed possible that Satanic abuse only existed in the minds of people who wanted or needed to believe in it.
There is no evidence that the complaints today and the episode in 1988 are connected, but local Pagans hope that the recent sharp rise in the complaints being made to the police are not a resurgence of the mindset that led to the 1988 allegations.
A spokesperson for the Nottinghamshire police recently noted: “We are very busy dealing with genuine calls for service and receiving calls about paranormal activity, UFOs and witches may delay our ability to pick up the phone to someone in real need of help.”