Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Odds and Ends


I woke up this morning to BBC Radio 4 as usual - a whole half an hour later thanks to the school holidays. The article I focused on amid the dozing made me wonder whether I had, in some sort of a sleep-debt double-bluff, still been dreaming.

The greatest named place in Britain is inviting applicants for possibly the country's greatest job - to become the modern-day counterpart to the legendary witch of Wookey Hole.

The Somerset caves have long been home to a witch turned to stone in the middle ages by a Benedictine monk with a flair for that kind of thing called Father Bernard. Now, however, the popular tourist attraction is in need of someone with a wider skill set than that possessed by the average vaguely person-shaped rocky outcropping, and is advertising for a living witch to take up residence in the caves at weekends, school holidays and special occasions such as Halloween.

The post is advertised at k£50 pa.

Several hopefuls were interviewed by the BBC team and all were invited to state what they could bring to the job. The answers were quite interesting while at the same time giving an insight into the great British quality of eccentricity.

"I used to be a Black Witch but now I am White" (My brain involuntarily ran the chorus to "Thriller") and I want to use my powers for good." responded one. She was invited to cackle. It was very impressive. One couldn't help but wonder whether she might be a touch too frightening for her younger visitors, but I guess if you've been brought up on the Harry Potter films a deluded Goth is small beer.

Another talked about the herbs she had brought with her and their various properties. I rather liked the sound of her earth-wisdom and her cackle was quite perfect.

At the end of the interview the assembled witches were invited to cackle in chorus.

Awesome! How many warts did they collectively own? I headed into the shower in very high spirits with a smile on my face.

A little later I was listening to an item on Britian's first anti-religious children's summer camp. Billed as a "godless alternative" to traditional religious summer camps. The five-day retreat is being hosted by Camp Quest, an American organisation which uses the advertising slogan "Beyond Belief" and has a growing following in the States. It is for the children of "atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and all those who embrace a naturalistic rather than supernatural world view".

The five days in Somerset will consist of traditional outdoor activities such as canoeing and cycling, combined with discussions about religion and non-belief. The centrepiece of the camp is an ongoing discussion where participants are encouraged to try to disprove the existence of unicorns, which serve as a metaphor for God.

Campers are told that two unicorns live in the area and cannot be seen, heard or touched. The adult councillors pretend to believe in the unicorns on the basis that an ancient book handed down through the generations says they exist. The children are encouraged to try to prove that the unicorns do not exist. If anyone is successful they will be awarded a £10 note which has a picture of Charles Darwin on it and is signed by leading atheist academic Richard Dawkins.

The emphasis is on rational discussion and debate with an emphasis on stressing that morality can exist apart from religious values.

Now as someone who encourages rational discussion and debate and who has no problem accepting that morality exists apart from religion and, indeed, that religion can actively impede morality, it sounds like my sort of camp. (Apart from the physical activities, obviously.)

Grace Davie, who wrote Religion in Britain since 1945, frequently asserts that religion is alive and well. It just doesn't necessarily conform to the traditional expressions these days. She clearly has a point.

By the way: what is it about Somerset?

Postscript: What are people doing about the pandemic and Communion? We had the ostentatious use of medi-gell before setting out the elements, other than that we have had no instructions.