I am delighted that Cambridge University’s Trinity Hall are planning a Solstice party. I’m pretty envious that I won’t be able to go myself; it sounds delightful:
“Join us as we dance through the shortest night into the longest day, while the sun stands still. Witness the transformation of the beautiful grounds of Trinity Hall under the light of the midnight sun. Experience the enticing array of food, drink, music and entertainment we have to offer.
With installations that will bring the solstice festivities to life, and the unmissable friendly atmosphere that characterises us, Trinity Hall’s 2018 June Event is the ideal place to celebrate the summer solstice.”
As a Pagan, it honestly fills me with joy to see students celebrating the wonders of Nature. And it both tickles and pleases me that they are planning on commemorating the event in a manner with which most Pagans would identify: with food, drink and music. Pretty much, in fact, how the Solstice is celebrated at Stonehenge.
So I was rather taken aback to discover that one Pagan at Cambridge University wasn’t happy with the idea of non-Pagans celebrating the Solstice, and who had gone to social media and Varsity to register her disgust. Wiccan Georgia Humphrey called it a “stupid, fairly thoughtless decision”, and said “it’s pretty grim to use any religion’s festivals as an excuse for a bunch of students to get drunk.”
I don’t want to be too hard on Georgia. I believe that Paganism is deeply important to her. And I think she might have fallen into the trap that many passionate people do: believing that what’s important to you is under constant danger and that you must defend it from the slightest perceived threat at all costs. Even if it means you end up unwittingly attacking your allies.
I also believe that she never meant her views to get the amount of media attention they did. She’s a 22 year old with strong opinions, and she has every right to express those opinions. University life should be all about vibrant debate and experimenting with different ideas, after all. I’m privileged to have been a university student at a time when I could post all my youthful opinions about the world online with virtually no consequences.
Sadly, we do now live in a world where such statements have consequences. In response to Georgia’s complaints, Trinity Hall have had to issue a statement on ‘religious appropriation’ on their website, which reads very much like an apology:
Our theme – Solstice (from the Latin ‘solstitium’, which refers to a stopping of the sun’s motion in the sky) – is a celebration of an astronomical phenomenon which has been recognised and celebrated for several millennia across nearly all cultures and continents.
We recognise the importance of the summer and winter solstice to the Wiccan community. Our theme is intended to highlight and celebrate the beauty of an astronomical marvel. Our predecessors across the world were awed by the beauty of the solstice and, like so many before and since, we share in their wonder and celebration.
It has never been our intention to appropriate any aspect of Wiccan practice. We wish only to acknowledge and celebrate the beauty of the natural world. We invite people of all beliefs to experience the wonder of the summer solstice with us.
I’m sorry to see that Trinity Hall have felt the need to issue such as statement. But I can also understand why they have. “Appropriation” has become an extremely sensitive issue. I was also disappointed when, in 2016, Trinity Hall felt it had to cancel a ‘Toyko to Kyoto’ themed event following complaints about “appropriation.” Disappointed, because I’ve spent the better part of a decade working for the Japanese government to promote cultural exchange between the UK and Japan, and these are just the kind of events I used to support and organise. I know from that experience that the best way to promote intercultural understanding between people is not to confine culture to the dusty lecture theatres or stuffy government offices of the elite, but to let it flourish and soar through parties, festivals and popular entertainment.
Many in the Pagan community have strived for decades to reassure the public that Paganism is nothing to fear. They have worked to share our beliefs with others, and encouraged non-Pagans to celebrate Nature in their own way. I do hope that as a result of this incident (and the subsequent media attention), some of that hard work won’t be undone. The last thing we’d want to see is the public fretting when they want to talk about Paganism, and feel that they have to handle our beliefs with kid gloves.
So I wish the Trinity Hall Solstice event every success. I hope all the students eat a little too much, get drunk, have a great time singing and dancing, and enjoy the wonder that is our Summer Solstice, a miracle of our natural world and part of our shared heritage as human beings.
And I hope Georgia goes and enjoys it too.