Our Banner: No Consensus for Loonies

Here’s an item for all you students of artful rhetoric: an article about pagans, Wiccans and other ‘alternative’ groups and the use they make of Stonehenge and similar sites. Pure wool from beginning to end – enough wool there to make jumpers for the entire Butterflies and Wheels staff.

Spiritual site-users, specifically Pagans and Travellers, have traditionally been negatively represented by the media…However, this report outlines the growing need for recognition of the rights of Pagans, who come from all walks of life…Pagan and other spiritual site-users believe that the spirits and energies of the land can be most strongly felt at sacred sites enabling connections to be made with our ancestors.

Yes, and? So what? What if I believe that the spirits and energies of [your choice of entity here] can be most strongly felt at the library, or the nearest art museum, or the theatre, or your living room, and so go there and carry on in a manner of my choosing? Will two Doctors at Sheffield Hallam University do research that outlines the growing need for recognition of the rights of me to do whatever I want to because I come from all walks of life? If so, why? And apart from that, apart from the consequentialist aspect of the question, what of the epistemological one? What about this fatuous nonsense that ‘spiritual site-users’ believe or claim to believe? Why the studied refusal to mention the nonsensicality of the belief?

Increasingly, they are campaigning to be able to engage with the sites in their own ways…Activities such as the lighting of fires and graffiti on the monuments, which have taken place as part of rituals, are in opposition to the preservation wishes of heritage managers. An extreme example of destructive behaviour was demonstrated by one such alternative group who decided that a stone circle was not positioned correctly and so they attempted to move it. Whereas Pagans are very active site users, heritage managers tend to promote a passive visitor experience, which includes accessing information on display and utilising the visitor centre. The research discusses how, for Pagan and spiritual site-users, the land isn’t something to visit or marvel at in this way, it is a living landscape and to be at the site is like ‘coming home’.

Sly, no? ‘Active’ versus ‘passive’ – now we know active is good and passive is bad, right? So obviously these energetic, lively, engaged, take charge Pagans are the Good People, and the spineless supine limp passive weak ‘heritage managers’, otherwise known as archaeologists and historians and tiresome pedantic people like that – they’re obviously the Bad People. The dear Pagans improve boring old places like Stonehenge by scribbling on them, setting fire to them and moving the stones around. Now that’s what I call initiative! Whereas the dreary old scholars just stand around and study the thing. Yuk, so left-brain, so linear, so Eurocentric and rational. And yet nobody represents them ‘negatively’ in the media.

The recent news that Stonehenge is to get a £57m makeover to improve its visitor centre and facilities is a step in the right direction, but further demonstrates this passive view of the visitor experience held by heritage managers. This research argues that although the views of heritage managers, archaeologists and spiritual site-users appear irreconcilable, the future of these sacred sites depends upon education, negotiation and consensus between all groups.

Why does the future of these ‘sacred’ sites depend on those things? Why is negotiation required? And especially why is consensus? Why can’t they just be ignored? Why can’t people who hold (or pretend to hold because it makes life interesting and gets them some attention even if it is ‘negative’) ridiculous unfounded ideas simply not be taken into account if their ideas entail destructive practices? What if a group decided it could only properly appreciate Shakespeare by eating the four remaining copies of the First Folio – would we have to negotiate and reach consensus, perhaps allow them to eat two, or chew all of them but then spit them out again? Or would we just tell them to go away. Let’s do more of that.

P.S. Thanks to PM, here is ‘sacred sites’ for your exploring pleasure.

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