Beltaine Blessings

Today I shall be away from the keyboard doing my other other job; celebrating one of the four greater festivals of my religion with others who share my reverences. I haven’t written about Druidry here; I probably won’t all that much, as this effort is focussed on secular politics. But there are times when the two interact, and this is one of them.

I have at various points mentioned the Battle of the Beanfield, after which Stonehenge was closed to celebrants of my religion and all the other Neo-Pagan paths that revere the site for nearly twenty years. One of the side-effects of that remarkable piece of aggressive religious persecution was that it gave the world King Arthur Pendragon. He was there, an ex-soldier and unruly biker, and his disgust at what happened not only convinced him something must be done, it changed his identity, his religion and his name. The man is a force of nature; I’ve heard no reports of him being seen sober, he’s very nearly single-handedly responsible for the resurrection of the Solstice festivals at Stonehenge, and he’s a recusant. By which I mean he does not use money: his biographer notes that therefore Arthur’s waistline is a measure of his success as a religious and political leader, since he is entirely fed by others. That’s 54 inches of Druid and rising.

The details of his activism across the last twenty-five years are relatively well documented, but three aspects concern me here. Firstly, he and the knights of the LAW (the Loyal Arthurian Warband) were one of many concerned groups involved in the Newbury road protests of the early 1990s. Secondly, between 1990 and 2003 his campaigning on behalf of religious rights for Pagans saw him arrested many times without charge, imprisoned for some time in jail, nearly dead of hunger in a ditch on Salisbury plane and eventually walking out of Southwark Crown Court holding a 3′ broadsword that he had just forced the police to return to him, because it was a holy symbol of his religion. The legal right of Sikhs to wear their dagger in public is down to his dedication and willingness to put up with official harrassment; and if you’re my age or younger and you’ve ever been to the rave at Summer Solstice down at Stonhenge, to hear the drummers and see the jugglers and catch the dawn rays to the sound of battle horns, then you owe that night of magic to him.

John the Hat was mad, bad and dangerous to know: King Arthur is still mad, but he’s also an extraordinary thinker and speaker, a priest of some stature and a truly, unusually, dedicated man. And he is back on the campaign that launched his story: he’s campaigning to have English Heritage open Stonehenge to the people of Britain, and particularly to the Pagans who wish to celebrate their religions in a unique and powerful sacred site. He has just been stitched up by the Salisbury council, and is taking his battle back into the court-rooms.

Several things about this story surprise me. Firstly, I find it remarkable that they’re still trying this stuff on with Arthur. He’s beaten them twice, in famous circumstances; he’s never given up until he did. The road protesters lost at Newbury but millions were treated to the glorious sight of a roaring druid in full fig being removed from a tree with a chain-saw. He’s dedicated to the point of obsession, he’s got the backing of CoBDO (which he didn’t last time) and he’s right: why are they still fighting him?

Secondly, I find it odd that neither of the journalists who’ve reported the story so far seem to be aware of his quarter-century history as a successful activist, in spite of the fact that a decade of it was in this precise cause; opening Stonehenge again. Neither mentions how he and then the hundreds and eventually thousands who followed him got the grudging permission to hold their Solstice festivals, and for Pagan groups to be able to book ceremonies (for which we have to pay). None seem aware that he was arrested over a hundred times and detained before being released without charge, because they knew there was no charge that would stick; or that once he forced them to charge him, he won his case and was publicly vindicated in his campaign.

And finally, I’m quite stunned to discover that he’s planning a run for Parliament out of Salisbury. I’ve mixed feelings about that: on the one hand, Arthur is not the most temperate or easily marketable choice for a first parliamentary representative for the 300,000 British Pagans counted in the last census. In fact, though he’s frequently a cogent one, there’s a case to be made that he’s a loon. On the other hand, I’d dearly love to see Parliament confronted with a campaigning spirit like that; an honest soul with honourable intent who simply will not give up. He’d be a grand advocate for his constituency, and after 20 years, on and off, campaigning at Stonehenge he knows Salisbury and Salisbury knows him. On reflection, I hope he does get into Parliament: I think the professionals could use the wake-up call.

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