Jenny Percival, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), May 11, 2008
PRISON officers have been ordered to allow Pagan prisoners to take twigs into their cells to use as magic wands.
The ruling has been announced as part of a prisons policy that requires Pagan prisoners to have the same rights as prisoners of other religions.
The new rules were drawn up with the help of the Pagan Federation, which advised the prison service on what equipment its members needed.
“We exist to assist members and to educate non-members on what it means to be a Pagan,” said a spokesman.
The announcement was made by Justice Reform Minister Maria Eagle in a Parliamentary answer last week.
She said: “Prison service policy is to enable prisoners of different faith traditions, including Paganism, to practise their religion. Religious artefacts are allowed for relevant faiths within the constraints of good order and discipline.
“The religious artefacts for Pagan prisoners include a flexible twig for a wand.”
Shadow prisons minister Edward Garnier said: “This sounds like an April Fool’s Day joke. But there’s genuine concern prisoners are taking the system for a ride. Prison governors should be discouraged from letting prisoners have sticks.”
Bill Aitken, the Scottish Tory Justice spokesman, said: “This sounds like a wind-up. I’ve no doubt that some of them will be wanting to use their magic wands to magic the doors open. But given that Kenny MacAskill seems hell-bent on letting prisoners out early, they will hardly need to.”
Conservative MP Andrew Turner, who uncovered the new ruling, added: “This strikes me as bizarre. A lot of people would be worried about equating Paganism with Christianity.”
There are estimated to be one million Pagans in Britain—around 300 of whom are in prison. There are about 30,000 in Scotland.
A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service confirmed that the ruling applied north of the border. “In terms of the general principle, we allow people to practise their faith within the constraints of good order,” said the spokesman.
Health boards allow Pagans in hospital to receive visits from celebrants of their faith. Pagan chaplains can offer bedside healing rituals, meditation and special prayers. They may also bring in healing stones and sufferers may be allowed to have small gods and goddesses by their bedsides.
However, the Pagans have decided to tone down what are seen as the more exotic and striking forms of their worship and ritual, such as carrying flaming torches.
In 2006, St Andrews University decided—on equal rights grounds—to allocate an area for Pagan festivals and rituals.
But in return for allowing access to buildings and finding an outdoor space for festivals, the university banned on its premises incantations or spells that might be viewed as harmful to believers of other faiths.