for National Geographic News
Pagans, Druids, and Travelers in the United Kingdom are demanding some respect, and it looks like they may be on their way to getting some.
Researchers studying the conflict over access to ancient sites such as Stonehenge, a circle of stones built around 2300 B.C., have concluded that "alternative site users" should be given a larger role in making decisions about how such monuments are used and managed.
"Contemporary Pagan interests are no less and no more valid than those of archaeologists, preservationists, or the general public," said Robert Wallis, an archaeologist at American University in London and co-author of the study.
Adherents of Paganism, who include Druids, Wiccans, Witches, Heathens, and others, conjure up images of people in dark hooded robes performing scary rituals. But Pagans are a fast-growing sector of post-modern Britain and can be found throughout society, the researchers say [see sidebar].
"They come from all walks of life," said Wallis. "There is tremendous diversity among the groups. Many of the beliefs and practices of today's Druids and Pagans draw on the early indigenous religions of the British Isles."
Celebration and Preservation
Stonehenge has been the most visible battleground in the clash over competing interests of various groups.
Archaeologists and conservationists regard Stonehenge and similar sites as archaeological treasures to be protected and preserved. Pagans, Druids, and other users like them view it differently.
"We see Stonehenge more as a temple than as a monument," said Arthur Pendragon, a Druid leader. "Instead of wrapping it up in cotton wool, we see it as a living landscape, to be used to celebrate the seasons and quarter days [solstices and equinoxes]. Druids want to use sacred sites as they were originally intended."
Wallis and co-author Jenny Blain, an anthropologist at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), argue that including Pagans and others who want to use the site for spiritual reasons will benefit the public and the monuments themselves.
The study, Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights, was funded by the Human Rights Research Centre at SHU and is continuing under a research grant from the Economic and Social Research Council.
The authors say Pagans, Druids, and other groups like them labor under two clouds in their efforts to gain standing in the decision-making process.
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