Schools in Cornwall, home to some of the most beloved stone circles in Britain, may soon start teaching students about paganism. Or will they? Photo by Flickr user iknow-uk.
The ever-sensationalistic Daily Mail ran a story this week claiming that teachers in Cornwall will now be required to teach paganism in religious education classes.
Paganism has been included in an official school religious education syllabus for the first time.
Cornwall Council has told its schools that pagan beliefs, which include witchcraft, druidism and the worship of ancient gods such as Thor, should be taught alongside Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
The requirements are spelled out in an agreed syllabus drawn up by Cornwall’s religious-education advisory group.
They add that the council’s advice has made Cornish Christians unhappy that the school system would give attention to what they call “a fringe eccentricity.”
Jason Pitzl-Waters already vetted this story over on his blog, The Wild Hunt, and brought some of the Mail’s claims into alignment with reality:
1. This isn’t a mandate; the recommendations of the religious-education advisory council are non-binding.
2. The syllabus maintains that 60% of religious education should be devoted to Christianity. The other 40% would be devoted to all other religions — Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, paganism, etc. Pitzl-Waters wrote, “I would be surprised if this lead to even a full day in any British school on modern Paganism.”
The only other item the new syllabus recommends is some coverage of Cornwall’s pre-Christian sites, such as stone circles and their importance for modern-day pagans. I certainly hope that’s being taught, since Cornwall is home to dozens of stone circles, such as the Merry Maidens and the Hurlers, which are certainly important to Cornwall’s tourism industry even if their importance to the pagan community is sometimes left in the dust.
Cornwall is also home to the Museum of Witchcraft, which documents the long history of pagan and folk practices in the region.
One has to wonder whether the ubiquitousness of these ancient circles has made the Cornish people blind to the pagans living in their midst, not to mention their peaceful practices. After all, when a beloved horse was slaughtered, some locals were quick to blame local pagans and/or Satanists. Better religious education could nip such horrible rumors in the bud before they make it to the BBC. Today, there are similar rumors in Edinburgh, Scotland after horses’ manes and tails were cut off.
It would be wishful thinking to believe that Cornwall will begin to teach local schoolchildren about paganism in a way that is fair, respectful, and accurate. It’s certainly nice to see such teaching recommended, but will it happen? Time will tell.