From July 25th through August 3rd the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is meeting in Brazil to consider additions to the list of World Heritage sites. In countries with limited resources or political will, having a site put on the World Heritage list can mean the difference between preservation and destruction (it can also mean welcome tourist dollars). Many of the sites that modern Pagans make pilgrimage to, or think of as their spiritual and religious heritage, the Acropolis, Delphi, Stonehenge, Avebury, and Bath, are all Heritage sites. This year Ireland’s government is nominating the Hill of Tara, along with several other sites, for consideration. In anticipation of this, they’ve debuted a new website featuring the already-listed and “tentative” Heritage sites.
After a confluence of events, including high-profile protests, a public consultation, and the looming influx of Olympics visitors, the British government has approved a new visitor centre and a road closure to improve the Stonehenge site. “Britain has given the go-ahead for a new 25 million pound visitor centre at Stonehenge and will shut a road that runs alongside the country’s most famous prehistoric monument … The Stonehenge Programme Board (SPB) has now given approval “in principle” for a new visitor centre to be built at Airman’s Corner about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the current site. In addition, it has proposed closing the A344 road which takes traffic very close to the stones. The project will now need planning approval and funding, which will come from both private and public sources.”
The Telegraph, Guardian, BBC, Salisbury Journal, and Daily Mail all report that Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) has been given notice by authorities to vacate his position in front of Stonehenge by May 3rd or face prosecution for trespassing. Pendragon (the Druid formerly know as John Rothwell) has been living in a camper at the edge of the site for the last 10 months protesting issues of access, lack of upkeep, and long-promised improvements. “[King Arthur Pendragon] believes visitors should be allowed to walk close to the stones and touch them rather than being confined to a visitor centre and a pathway well away from the monument. Pendragon also believes the fence designed to keep visitors out has a damaging impact on the stone circle itself, holding it “in a stranglehold like a snared animal”. Wiltshire county council launched legal proceedings to force Pendragon to move away.
The Western Daily Press reports on the tensions and difficulties of balancing the needs and desires of various groups at the world-famous Avebury henge and stone circle. While not as instantly famous as Stonehenge some twenty miles away, the site has become a popular alternative gathering point with Pagans, travelers, and tourists for solstice and equinox observances. The National Trust, which owns much of the village, has found itself caught in the middle of several different interest groups: English Heritage wants to preserve the stones, the council wants to keep roads open, the police want to stop anti-social behaviour, the pagans want to uphold their right to their religious observances and residents want the three-day ‘invasion’ kept to a minimum. For now local residents have decided to continue allowing limited camping near the site, not so much for selfless reasons, but because they are genuinely afraid of “significant problems” if they outright ban camping at the site. Many still recall with dread observances from 2005 and 2006 when disorder and chaos ruled the day and seek to avoid a repeat if they can.
My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.The right-wing site NewsBusters, who expose liberal media bias by reveling in their own conservative media bias, takes a few pot-shots at Margot Adler’s coverage of Dylan Mortimer’s Public Prayer Booths for NPR. NewsBuster Tim Graham seems particularly unhappy they sent a “pagan witch” to cover this story.”NPR sent reporter Margot Adler – the pagan witch – to address this issue, and she just happened to stumble across the New York City Atheists as she opened the story … it’s hard for most listeners to buy the argument that Bronstein [of the New York City Atheists] “just happened to be walking by.” If Adler didn’t contact him beforehand … another reason for skepticism: Adler failed to just discover a protester in August as she delighted in a piece of public art that satirized waterboarding SpongeBob Squarepants …