Being a Pagan to many means connecting with the Divine with and through nature, celebrating the seasons and, sometimes, practicing magick. It can also lead to some funny situations both with fellow Pagans and with other people generally. Here are a few that have happened to me and people I know over the years.
Nearly Casting a Circle Incorrectly in the Biggest Solar Compass in England
In 2004 the Portsmouth Druid Dylan Ap Thuin died of a heart attack and, after the civil cremation and social offices had been observed it was decided to hold a memorial service for him at Stonehenge. In addition to being a key site for Pagans in general Stonehenge had played a major part in Dylan’s life as for many years he had been the only Druid to observe the Solstices and Equinoxes inside Stonehenge during the times that he sacred Wiltshire site was protected by the police enforcing a four-mile exclusion order during the summer and winter Solstice
He was able to do this because, living in Portsmouth(UK), he frequented the Pagan shop "Broomsticks" based in a landmark building and was trained in infiltration by the local Ninja and ex Special Forces people who were also Pagans and frequented the shop. At these sacred times the sun would rise, illuminating the ancient stones, a big ring of police surrounding them,…and Dylan at the altar stone in full ritual Druid regalia celebrating the appropriate Festival.. This went on for so long that the stock footage of a Druid at Stonehenge in many photo libraries is a picture of Dylan by The Hele Stone having just completed his ritual
This also resulted in a second tradition – that of getting him out of the circle with the minimum of fuss in the full glare of the world’s press. This was done by providing him with breakfast. Dylan would do his ritual, the police would send in an officer with breakfast which he would eat in place of the traditional ‘cakes and Ale’, then leave the Henge to return the plate and utensils to the police canteen van before going on his way. All very British, especially as Dylan was going to leave anyway as he had finished his ritual so the meal was a bonus.
On the last Sunday of September 2003 there was a great assembling of Druids and other Pagans at Stonehenge invited to Dylan’s memorial service. It was set to begin shortly before midday so that the circle casting for the ritual was able to be done precisely at noon. The more perceptive amongst the gathering might have had a hint of things to come if they had overheard the following conversation in the parking lot:
High Priestess: “OK who’s got Dylan’s ashes?”
Druidess: “You have”
High Priestess: “No I haven’t! I last saw them just before we left Portsmouth” (Portsmouth being at least 40 miles away)
Me: (helpfully) “Well, the last time I saw them they were in the hall with the rest of the regalia just before we left”
Long silence while everyone looks at everyone else hoping that one of the group will suddenly remember they have the ashes. If not, can we go ahead with the ritual? Can we bluff with a container that looks like the ashes?
Fortunately a few moments later someone from another car comes up to the group with the urn containing the missing ashes and the classic line. “This was left in the hall. Is it important?”
The person leading the ritual was King Arthur (his real name) who had also tried observe the Festivals at Stonehenge during the ban, but always got arrested. The police exclusion zone had been lifted for Druids since 1999 so he had cast circles at the dawn ritual welcoming in the Solstice/Equinox a few times starting in the East facing the sun and working his way through the quarters. So everyone is in place by the time noon arrives, Arthur faces the Sun and begins his usual invocation “Hail o spirits of the East ….”
Except it isn’t East. Facing the Sun at midday means he is facing South –most of the crowd, who are experienced Pagans of various paths, know this and are loudly trying to tell him so.
Cries of “That’s South!” and “Oi! Arthur! Wrong Quarter!” and similar ring through Stonehenge's ancient bluestones. But King Arthur is oblivious. He is on full autopilot for a dawn circle casting at Stonehenge and nothing is going to distract him. Eventually the problem was solved by two big quick-thinking Druids striding over to him, picking him up by the elbows, and turning him 90 degrees to face East, and putting him down again to complete the casting correctly.
So to this day as far as I know King Arthur Pendragon has the distinction of being the only Druid to nearly cast a circle incorrectly despite being inside Stonehenge - the largest solar compass in England.
Next time: The Health Visitor and the Living Altar