The Brewery Tap
Paganism in Suffolk
By Rachel Sloane
I don’t know what I expected really. I knew there would not (contrary to popular opinion) be naked revellers dancing around open fires chanting spells – after all, the meeting place was at the Brewery Tap, the Ipswich pub by the docks.
I knew that paganism 'describes a group of contemporary religions based on a reverence for nature. These faiths draw on the traditional religions of indigenous peoples throughout the world' as it says on the BBC faith website, but what did that mean here in Suffolk?
In the event the members of the Ipswich Pagan Council looked much like any other group of mainly 30-50 year olds - perhaps like members of the Campaign for Real Ale, or a ramblers group. True, my host, Robin Hearne, was wearing a very striking costume of white linen over-shirt, belt, leather jerkin, pendants and rings with symbols of wolves, but that was to illustrate the theme of the talk that evening – Norse mythology and gods.
So, if as I was told, pagans do not worship the devil, cast spells or dance naked at midnight, what do they believe in?
“There are many different types of heathens who belong to the Pagan Federation including witches, wiccans, druids, shamans etc. eathenism, from the Germanic tradition, is very popular in the Ipswich area given that it is a Saxon town, and was Pagan until the year 800,” Robin explained.
“We don’t believe there is a force of spiritual evil, which there obviously is in Judaism and Christianity, for example. To us the gods are integral to the world around, to the sun, the moon, the trees the stars, animals and everything else. These are neither good nor evil – they simply are. We are believers in many gods and goddesses. For most pagans it is very important to behave honourably but how an individual pagan interprets honour is down to themselves.. not cheating, lying, sponging off someone etc”
The Brewery Tap
The upstairs room at the Brewery Tap (next to the old Tolly Cobbold brewery) is a pleasant enough, but why no obvious signs of the faith of the believers attending? No symbols, pentangles, elements….
Ipswich Pagan Council
“We are not rich enough as a community to have a temple or meeting room like that. This isn’t a religious meeting in the strict sense of the word as we don’t conduct any ceremonies here. We respect the fact that this is a pub and the rest of the week they have bands rehearsing here, chess clubs and what have you.”
The one sign of the unusualness of the hirers of the room was the notice board that Robin brought from his car. It’s not often you can read postcards and posters offering pagan–friendly funeral services, traditional besom brooms, incense, and runestones!
Robin began the evening by reading the notices - including an invitation from Christian women for the woman present to meet with them for an exchange of ideas and discussions. The details of the next 'WI' or 'Witches Institute' - the nickname of the craft group that meets regularly, were also detailed!
Laurie Manning, the membership secretary explained what had led her to become a pagan: “Personally, conventional religions never really spoke to me and I found myself drifting more and more in a pagan direction. I came and met everyone, found my path and am very, very happy."
The Brewery Tap, Ipswich
"I’m a heathen, which is somebody who follows Germanic and Norse traditions and there is a very strict honour code about how you treat people and conduct yourself in all walks of life. I very much like that sense of personal responsibility. Nobody can forgive you for the things you do wrong – it’s up to you to do the best you can in everyday life..…People can find real spiritual fulfilment within paganism.”
Do you know what surprised me the most of everything I learnt during my visit? That there are hundreds of people in Suffolk who describe themselves as 'pagans', over 800 members of the Pagan Federation and Council in the county, and around thirty to fifty who meet regularly in Ipswich. Many of the county’s religious groups would be very pleased with numbers like that!
last updated: 17/11/2008 at 14:31
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