GLASGOW, Scotland – A recent court case has brought Paganism in Scotland into the limelight: the case revolves around the presence of an alleged Satanic sex ring in Glasgow.
Seven men and four women have been accused of 43 different charges, involving witchcraft, animal sacrifice, attempted murder and serious sexual violence against children. Others have been accused, but are now deceased.
The charges are said to have occurred over a 10 year span between 2010 and 2020, and primarily focus on two girls and a boy (although other children are allegedly involved). The children are said to have been forced to take part in rituals in which they were compelled to drink blood and consume a heart, also that they were forced to use a Ouija board to conjure spirits and that they were obliged to kill dogs. Boys were also allegedly used to courier drugs and the girls are said to have been raped.
Court documents say that the accused wore “cloaks and Devil horns” and that the victims were persuaded to believe that they had metamorphosed into animals. The people accused are also facing separate drugs charges.
Judge Lord Beckett, presiding at the High Court in Glasgow, has described the case as “a unique situation.” He has set a full 8 week trial for September of next year, with a hearing to be held in January.
There are a number of issues to consider here. Clearly, modern Paganism is intrinsically opposed to the kind of criminal activity detailed in this court case. No reputable Pagan would engage in this kind of practice, which seems to derive more from the works of Dennis Wheatley than from anything found in contemporary spiritual paths.
However, from this starting point, we may note two points: the first is that people involved in criminal activity occasionally adopt the more sensationalist aspects of the occult as portrayed in the media, without any adherence to the principles behind actual occult practice (for example, teenagers who vandalise churchyards and inscribe pentagrams on gravestones, something no sincere Wiccan would ever contemplate).
Secondly, there is a history of Satanic panics in Scotland.
In 1991, 5 boys and 4 girls were removed from their English families in South Ronaldsay on Orkney, due to allegations of child abuse which the children themselves denied had ever taken place. On the first day of the trial, Sheriff Kelbie, presiding, said of social services “these proceedings are so fatally flawed as to be incompetent,” and that the children appeared to have been coached, by one social worker in particular. He dismissed the case and the children were returned to their families.
Matters did not end here, however, as the case went to appeal, only to be thrown out eventually and resulting in an official enquiry, chaired by Lord Clyde, which significantly criticised social services, the Orkney police, and the Orkney Islands Council.
Materials confiscated as “evidence” included a detective novel by Ngaio Marsh, who did occasionally feature occult themes in her famous Alleyn series, and a wooden aeroplane, described as a “cross.”
Satanic panics are not confined to the past of the U.K. or to Scotland itself: readers may be familiar with the new podcast, “Hoaxed,” detailing a recent case in which two children in Hampstead, London, in 2014 accused their father and 175 teachers, parents and religious leaders of involving them in “demonic abuse.”
This was investigated by the police, who dismissed the allegations, which later turned out to have been generated by the children’s mother and her new partner in an act of alleged revenge. Unfortunately, by this time the panic had been adopted by conspiracy theorists and accused people are still on the receiving end of harassment.
Investigative journalist Alexi Mostrous has outlined the case in his podcast. Such panics can, as we have seen in these two examples, be supported and indeed initiated by the authorities, or can be undercut by responsible investigation and the trial system.
The English and Welsh police in particular have made some strides in the last decade by bringing in experts on the occult (and actual Pagans) to inform them on cases that appear to involve ritual abuse, and in a number of cases, we have been informed that the police have not only listened but acted on this reliable information when cases come to court. In these cases, reporting has been responsible, too.
Thus, in the Glasgow case, we have a number of possibilities, including genuine abuse under the guise of pretend ritual magic, or a Satanic panic. However, the Glaswegian case has brought a very negative spotlight onto actual Scots Paganism and the Scottish Pagan Federation are claiming reputational damage.
Presiding officer Steffy Von Scott says:
“Abuse and violence go against everything that we hold dear. Headlines which link witchcraft to claims of Satanic abuse are negatively impacting on the Pagan community and colouring people’s views. Pagans don’t believe in Satan — which is a Christian concept — or get involved in anything like that. We are more focused on nature. For too long Pagans have been an invisible faith community in Scotland. Too many of us have no choice but to simply live with the prejudice that we face on a regular basis, as if it is something we just have to keep silent about and tolerate as part of everyday life.”
The Scottish Pagan Federation is taking up the reporting around this case with the faith and belief unit of the Scottish government.
Scottish Pagans, particularly in the islands, face a more uphill social struggle than Pagans south of the border in England, due to the prevalence of more rigid and fundamentalist forms of Christianity.
The Wild Hunt has spoken to Heathens, who must remain anonymous, who grew up in the islands but who do not feel that they can return to live there due to religious disapproval. In relation to this latest case, it is to be hoped that reporting around the forthcoming trial will be responsible and the truth of the situation will come to light.