The Beltane Spring Fayre Group

In association with Leicester Pagan Moot 

::Bringing Back Memories 2014::

By Leicester Mercury  |  Posted: September 11, 2014

On This Day: 25 Years Ago

Thousands of witches were forced to find another venue for a major pagan festival after Leicester Polytechnic barred the gathering from being held at college premises.

Christians hailed news of the rebuff as “a victory of good over evil”.

Throughout yesterday, Polytechnic directors, Students’ Union officials and leaders of the festival were locked in negotiations over the use of college buildings.

The Polytechnic sought immediate legal advice to halt the gathering, after it was revealed the pagan event was set to go ahead.

Last night, deputy director Professor Brian Swanick said an agreement had been reached that the pagans should not be admitted.

The college believed it had taken a booking for a “small exhibition on folk history.”

They were unaware the exhibition was a 3,000-plus festival.

Prof Swanick said: “They will still be arriving, but will not be using any part of the Polytechnic.”

Hundreds of witches and pagans gathered in a field near Groby in preparation for the Autumn Link-Up festival.

News of the event caused a storm among Christians.


Thoughts on the event 25 years on:

Bringing Back Memories

Leicester Green Majick Collective and other Pagan groups had held festivals in Leicester in 1986 and 1987. The first National Pagan Link Conference was held at Leicester University in 1988. The University had welcomed us and asked us to return as it was a “much nicer event then the usual student Saturday night”.

Unfortunately different organisers of the 1989 Link Up festival decided to change venue to De Montfort University. Instead of taking out a paid advertisement, they went directly to the editor (an Evangelical Christian) of the Leicester Mercury with the story. The effect of the headline “3000 Witches coming to Leicester” (presumably to eat your babies) was disastrous for the Pagan community in Leicester. Twenty-seven Christian churches picketed the venue aggressively. Green Majick Collective lost 230 members overnight as people realised they could lose their homes, jobs, friends, and even children, when their religion was made public.

There was a public apology and retraction from the Mercury two days later, achieved thanks to the Pagan Anti-Defamation League, with a three page spread giving the Pagan perspective. It included national and local Pagan interviews, with follow on TV and radio coverage. Despite this, attitudes in churches and in Leicester did not easily change.

Pagans took a long time to re-emerge, some becoming solitary practitioners, and many families choosing not to observe their faith in public. It is a religion of diversity, tolerance and individual empowerment, venerating nature and respecting all religious beliefs that honour life.

The festivals resumed in 2005 and 2006 in Castle Park, with another in 2007 at Moat Community College. This was due to the Beltane Spring Fayre Group and a new generation seeking a nature based spiritual pathway. Young Pagans had not experienced the prejudices of the previous generation. They expected equal consideration in religious matters thanks in part to the changing laws. Taking advantage of these laws, we have reported our first faith hate crime this year. It was dealt with very sensitively and satisfactorily by Leicestershire Police.

According to the 2011 census, there are now 1400 Pagans in Leicester and Leicestershire. Pagans are included and accepted as part of the Interfaith community. Paganism is the seventh largest religion in the UK.  The Leicester Mercury has since proven more sympathetic to minorities, including Pagans, in their coverage of events.

Lesley Vann

Beltane Spring Fayre Group

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