Wiccans, druids and pagans of all sorts gathered in Croydon on Saturday for Witchfest, the world’s biggest witchcraft festival.
Between 2,500 and 3,000 guests dressed accordingly, from gothic medieval clothing to witch costumes, in order to celebrate the 14th annual event in Fairfield Halls.
Croydon native Merlyn Hern, organiser of the event, said: “We have seen a massive increase this year; the turnout is up by 50 per cent since last year. Many are not finding what they are looking for in traditional, mainstream religion anymore.”
According to the 2011 UK Census, roughly 53,172 people identified as Pagan in England, and more and more people are effectively turning away from Christianity. Between 2001 and 2011, the Christian population in England and Wales shrunk by 12 per cent.
So what is paganism? Rain McManus, 50, who runs a shop in Romford and brought 17 of her customers to Witchfest on a coach trip, told ELL “I think paganism is an umbrella term, and underneath it is a multitude of different paths. It’s all inclusive.”
Ember Vincent, from Brighton, said “For me, paganism is any kind of earth-based spirituality. It is very non judgmental, all encompassing, and very respectful of all viewpoints.”
Hern, who identifies as a Wiccan, explained: “A Wiccan believes mainly three things: they believe in the divinity of nature, so it’s a very eco-friendly belief system; they believe in a goddess and a god, so it’s very egalitarian; and they believe in magic. People tend to have a problem with that last bit, but if you think about it, it’s not weirder than believing in prayer. Magic is the manipulation of coincidence in your favour.”
Because paganism has no place of worship, an event like Witchfest is significant for bringing together the pagan community. It is a place to meet, network and exchange ideas for individuals who often practice in solitude.
McManus added: “My favourite part [of Witchfest] is meeting people. I have been talking to people all day, getting hugs and kisses from kilted men, what more could somebody want?”
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