From meat-wielding, “Waes Hael!” shouting Northern Tradition followers, to fabulously camp Faery Wiccans, Paganism is diverse. Many Pagans believe in numerous Gods and respect and revere nature, but if you put a group of Pagans in a room and asked them life’s big questions, I’m confident you’d have many different answers. Here in Nottingham, we have everything from working groups for Witches, to a Goddess Temple, celebrating the divine feminine in every one of us. And whichever part of the LGBT+ spectrum (if any) that you identify with, Paganism has its arms open wide for you.
Pagans worship the devil as much as Christians worship Vishnu. Pagans reject the idea of an all-encompassing evil deity whose (busy) job it is to tempt people away from the “righteous” path. In many paths, darkness is embraced as equal to the light. Likewise, Pagan Gods tend to have both negative and positive characteristics; no God is solely good or solely evil. Nature is looked to as a source of inspiration, and, as nature provides us with both beautiful sunrises and life-ruining earthquakes, it follows that a religion based on these things inevitably acknowledges light alongside the dark. Many ancient sacred Pagan symbols, however, have been misinterpreted as reminiscent of evil, dark forces. The horned, red devil bears a striking resemblance to The Horned God, a deity worshipped centuries before this icon of popular culture was formed. The Pentagram, a highly sacred, usually Wiccan symbol, is often confused with the “sign of the devil” usually mistakenly shown as inverted.
The UK is still very much a Pagan country, and historically, this was official. Look closely and you’ll see Pagan symbols everywhere, and Nottingham is no exception to this. Our biggest claim to fame, Robin Hood, is argued by some to be a local version of the ultimate Neo-Pagan archetype – The Green Man. What’s more, “Green Men” can be found tucked away in little-noticed alcoves in churches throughout the land. Some suggest that they are the most obvious indications of the beliefs of recent Christian converts who often helped build the buildings, reluctant to fully let go of their ancient beliefs. Check out some beautiful examples in Southwell Minster’s chapter house or at the chancel of St. John’s in Carrington, and see if you can spot the fiendish little characters on your doorstep.
Ever had anyone tell you you’re wrong because you’re not following the “one true path”? Unfortunately, this can be a prevalent in many faiths, even the ones that veer more towards a philosophy of tolerance. This is something gladly missing most Pagan faiths. In fact, it’s usually frowned upon to even “take on” someone intrigued in the faith without their expressed invitation. This makes it difficult to reach out to like-minded folks who can guide your learning, but is usually seen as a bit of a relief to non-pagans. Didn’t know there was a thriving Pagan community in Nottingham until now? This will probably be why.
First off, highly-respected Wiccan author Raymond Buckland grew up here, attending Nottingham High School as a child. Most Wiccans worth their salt have read his extensive works, particularly his Complete Book of Witchcraft, affectionately referred to as “Big Blue” in the community. Nottingham also boasts various sites that are highly significant to local Pagans. Aside from the plethora of city parks, numerous sites are freely available to visit. The Hemlock Stone, for example, is a mysterious sandstone over 200 million years old in Stapleford, its true purpose and significance to histories’ Pagans now sadly lost. Cresswell Crags is a collection of prehistoric caves where remains of tools and animals found there indicate our ancestors hung out (and possibly had a party) right there on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border. The nearby village of Wellow boasts one of the sole remaining maypoles in use; an overtly Pagan tradition.
Whether you’re drawn to Druidry or Wicca, Hereditary Witchcraft or Shamanism, there is no-one telling you the “right way” to practise your chosen path. Of course, there are still respected elders within the community, but even so, genuine elders will make it clear their views constitute only opinions. It follows, then, that at Pagan gatherings, newbies are welcomed alongside that seasoned real-ale sipping Heathen enigmatically leant in the corner. This inclusive vibe rings true at Pagan gatherings across Nottingham. The term “moot” is used by Pagans when referring to their more informal gatherings, usually open to Pagans of all stripes. The Nottingham Pagan Network hosts a monthly moot and the Empyrean Society puts on slightly more formal, but equally fascinating talks and events.
Pagan worship is as diverse as Pagan wardrobe habits, and believe me, these can be pretty diverse. I use the word “worship” lightly, as the Pagan interpretation of this can be quite unique. A common expression of such worship is that of ritual. All of us perform rituals, whether it be that essential cup of coffee first thing in the morning, to checking the door is locked that one extra time every outing. Pagan rituals, tend to be a set of behaviours with a certain intent behind them. This involves anything from the lighting of candles to chanting naked around a fire. Luckily for you, the naked chanting tends to happen in very particular circumstances with experienced practitioners, and it’s not an excuse for anything saucy. Easy tiger.
Rituals can be open and accessible for all, or closed for members only. Open rituals can be found happening throughout Nottingham, and are often a very rewarding and immersive way to meet like-minded folk. Check out the Nottingham Pagan Network Facebook page for regular updates.
No babies or fluffy bunnies are harmed in the path of a Pagan. That’s right, contrary to what The Wicca Man would have you believe, human or animal sacrifice is no longer the a thing for modern Pagans. In fact, many, but not all, Pagans are fervent vegetarians or vegans, taking an active role in campaigning for animal rights. The natural world is sacred to Pagans, it comes with the robes and incense, so the thought of killing innocent living things tends to send shivers down even the most fervent Pagan’s spine.
Sacrifice, as in other religions, can take many forms in Paganism. Fasting, for example, is a common practise. Offerings of food, incense and drink are also immensely popular. Next time you find yourself in Victoria Centre, check out the famous Emmett clock tower. What do you see strewn across the tiles, under the water? Tossing coins into water is an ancient Pagan practise, to appease the water spirits and sprites in exchange luck, or for a wish to be granted.
Pagan Pride is a free public event held at The Arboretum, Waverley Street on Sunday 6 August. Gates open at 12pm and inside you’ll find craft stalls, live entertainment, refreshments, activities and talks suitable for the whole family.
The Nottingham Pagan Network is a local Pagan group, specialising in connecting local Pagans and advertising local events. They hold a monthly moot on the first Wednesday of each month at The Lincolnshire Poacher Inn on Mansfield Road from 7pm onwards.
The Nottingham Empyrean Society is a local Pagan interest group who organise various local events of interest to paths similar, but not exclusive to Paganism. They hold regular events at the Theosophical Hall, Maid Marion Way. Check out their website for regular updates.
Pagan Pride Nottingham on Facebook
Nottingham Empyrean Society