Scottish Pagan Federation launches Europe-wide Pagan Discrimination Survey

By Steffy VonScott, Nov 15 2020

Links to surveys:

Paganism, as a faith community, has been growing in stature and acceptance for some time now thanks to the dedication and hard work of the Pagan Federation(s). The Pagan Federation itself was first founded in 1971 in reply to widespread prejudice against Paganism in the our Society at that time, and as a way to combat and dispel misinformation against Paganism in the Press and media. It was created during a time when many of the freedoms we take for granted today didn’t exist, and has worked tirelessly since its formation to redress that balance. We are now only a few years away from our 50th anniversary as an organisation, and in that time, we have achieved so much in terms of rights and recognition of our faith community. In all areas of public life, from Interfaith, Celebrancy, University Chaplaincy, Education, Youth Outreach work, Disability and Inclusion, Prison Chaplaincy, and Healthcare, Pagan rights and recognition has taken massive strides forward.

In 2017 the BBC News reported that Paganism had grown to such an extent that it is now the second largest faith in south-west England, which is reflected in the Cornish education system where Paganism is now being taught as part of the syllabus in Schools in Cornwall. However the news also pointed out that current figures are based on academic estimations as the vast majority of Pagans in England and Scotland did not declare their faith on the census for fear of discrimination.

It’s not that difficult to see why the Pagan community remains hesitant to freely share their spiritual preference. Being openly Pagan has only been legal in the United Kingdom since 1951, with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act. Prior to that time practitioners could face imprisonment, or even death going further back. While this made it finally legal to practice Paganism once again, it was not without consequences. Throughout the 80’s and early 90’s an individual could lose their job or livelihood, be investigated by social services and even lose custody of your children if you came out as Pagan. Because of incidents like these the Pagan faith community have tended to keep their faiths and beliefs hidden from the wider world for fear of discrimination.

Though attitudes have changed in modern society, we still have a long way to go, given that most Pagans still keep their faith to themselves. We also have many examples where Pagans are still being subject to prejudice in places where they have been more open or visible about their faith, which does not instil confidence. In 1999 Dr Ralph Morse, the first national youth officer of the Pagan Federation was summarily suspended from his post as Head of Drama, Theatre Arts and Media Studies at Shenfield High School in Essex. In 2006, members of Youth 2000, a conservative Catholic organisation, attacked Pagans in Glastonbury, threw salt at them while shouting that Pagans would burn in hell. This led to one police arrest and a further two cautions. In 2007, a teaching assistant in Brighton claimed she was sacked for being a Wiccan. In the very same year a teacher at Shawlands Academy in Glasgow was denied time off to attend Druid rites while other faiths were granted leave for religious holidays, and a Neo-druid group from Dorset was subjected to threats and abuse. These are just a few examples.

A decade on from all this, we find that while attitudes continue to soften to Pagans in the mainstream media, discrimination still exists in pockets of society where Pagans reveal their faiths openly. Since 2017 the Pagan shop Spellbound in Gloucester has been a target of a hate campaign where staff received death threats and arson threats. The shop owner, Toni Hunt, has been subjected to verbal abuse. She’s had her car damaged. There has been glue put all over the frontage of the shop. Eggs pelted at her shop window. She’s had abuse posted through her letterbox. She’s even had Exorcisms performed outside her shop. As recently as March of 2019, the shop was attacked by fireworks with an explosive thrown into the shop. So far Police have done little about this. Professor Ronald Hutton, while asked to comment on the issue, believes it will be another 50 years before Paganism is fully accepted the same way as other faith communities of these British Isles. Because of incidents like these the Pagan faith community have tended to keep their faiths hidden for fear of prejudice and discrimination.

We know from what our community tell us that many Pagans keep their faiths hidden from their friends, their workplaces, even from their own families. It is easy to see why some people refer to the Pagan community as an invisible faith community or a community in hiding. We speak to people all the time who are afraid to come out as Pagan. Pagans afraid of the consequences if their boss or work colleagues found they were Pagan, with a concern that it might cost them a promotion or career elevation. Pagans afraid that their children may be discriminated against or bullied in School if people found out their parents were Pagan. We know that a great many Pagans today have fake social media profiles and several Facebook accounts with fake names to hide their true religion from their family, friends, peers, and work colleagues, outside of their own faith communities. At hospital visits putting down you are Muslim and asking for an Imam will ensure someone to talk to, however putting down Pagan, as I found out recently, will get you strange looks, covert whispers, and worst still: ignored. It is a more serious issue than many realise.

It’s this fear of discrimination that means the vast majority of Pagan numbers go unreported with each decade’s Census, which is a very significant problem, as without true figures of our numbers the need for provision and inclusion in all areas of public life cannot be accurately reflected. The importance of being recognised in the census figures would go a long way to improving Pagan rights and recognition in a number of areas including in education, the NHS, local authorities. It is incredibly important for our true numbers to be captured, as it gives us a stronger case for provision. The Government and local authorities and many other agencies use the Census results when allocating provisions for the different faith communities in Scotland, so it is important that our true numbers are reflected.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for someone to discriminate against you because of your religion or beliefs. Under the Equality Act there are four kinds of religious discrimination: direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment. As an example, if you don’t feel you’re being treated the same as, say, a Christian worker would be in the same situation, you are most definitely the victim of direct religious discrimination. Many Pagans take for granted the discrimination they face because of their faith, and worse, normalise that abuse as just part of daily life. Worst still, it is believed that Pagans are less likely to report abuse than any other religious minority for fear of not being taken seriously.

To ascertain the true extent of discrimination and prejudice against Paganism and the Pagan faith communities the Scottish Pagan Federation are launching a series of Pagan Discrimination Surveys to gather information from our communities both North and South of the border, and also across Europe, so to better tackle it and identify the problem areas.

Background to SPF’s Pagan Discrimination Survey(s):

The Pagan Discrimination Survey was originally conceived by Steffy VonScott, SPF’s current Presiding Officer. It began to take form around April 2018, at the 25th anniversary of SPF’s annual Pagan Conference. After several harrowing conversations with attendees about the discrimination they were experiencing as Pagans, alongside comments that came from our Community Discussion Panels that ran throughout the day, Steffy decided to follow this up by travelling to Moots and Pagan shops across the west of Scotland, as well as to Edinburgh. His aim was to discuss the nature and extent of discrimination against Pagans and Paganism in modern Scotland. It was from these initial meetings that the questions which would eventually form the survey began to take shape.

Later in 2018, Steffy was elected as Presiding Officer of the Scottish PF, and at that point he decided to make this survey a strategic part of his Five-Year-Plan to identify key areas where discrimination against the Pagan faith community was taking place. His longer term aim was to tackle and alleviate these issues.

In early 2019, Steffy began collaborating with Social Anthropologist Aglaja Kempinski of Edinburgh University, on an initial complete draft of the survey itself, to ensure it was fit for purpose. Next, a series of in depth consultations, to discuss the nature of the survey, took place which gathered input from prominent UK Pagan organisations, including the Pagan Federation of England and Wales, the Druid Network, and the Pagan Heathen Symposium - a collective of Pagan organisations that includes Children of Artemis, Fellowship of Isis, plus many others, on their board. These consultations, together with the input from the individual organisations, influenced Steffy’s decisions when compiling and collating those questions that would eventually be included in SPF’s survey. The intention at this stage was to ensure that the final version of the survey was as robust as possible.

Early in 2020, Steffy put a case to SPF’s Council members for a financial investment from the Scottish Pagan Federation to be able to host the survey on an online platform. SPF officers had already successfully trialled a free version of Survey Monkey when collecting and analysing feedback surveys for SPF (for 2020’s on-line conference and eSPIN/SPIN). The rationale for the purchase of a subscription to Survey Monkey was that this would provide SPF with software to easily present and evaluate the information and findings from the survey. It is also SPF’s intention to analyse the survey results in order to assess the levels of discrimination our community face here in modern Scotland. Those funds were granted and Acting Deputy Presiding Officer Helen Woodsford-Dean was tasked with launching the survey.

Over the next few months Helen Woodsford-Dean, with the support of our Community Support Officer, Jules Kelly, worked to launch the survey itself. First the survey questions had to be converted from their current fill-in a paper form format to an on-line equivalent. This involved splitting some of the original questions into several shorter questions in order to ensure clarity. Once this stage was complete it became apparent that the length of the survey was too long and complex, in its current on-line format, to be able to be launched as one single survey. Feedback from beta testing suggested that respondents lost motivation to complete surveys that took too long (10 mins seemed the maximum). Helen subsequently divided the survey into more manageable sized parts, keeping the demographic questions at the beginning of each, and finally settling on four individual surveys that tackled the key themes of:

  • General experiences of discrimination
  • Discrimination in a social context, from friends, family, and within an educational setting
  • Discrimination in the workplace
  • Pagan interactions with officialdom
No-one should face discrimination because of their faith. That is why taking part in this exercise, by responding to these surveys, is so essential. It is vital that your voices, as you relate your experiences of prejudice as Pagans, are accurately recorded. Your honest and anonymous responses will allow SPF to both understand and identify incidences of discrimination against Paganism in our modern society. SPF will use the findings from these surveys in our continuing fight to combat discrimination against Pagans and Paganism as an organisation going forward.

As the Pagan Federation moves towards its 50th Anniversary this year (and the 30th anniversary since the Scottish PF was launched in 1991), it is important now, perhaps more than ever before, that SPF shapes long term and robust strategies to better tackle these issues of continuing discrimination against all who consider themselves to be Pagan.

All four surveys can be accessed anonymously via these links: