The PAGAN initiation ceremony has many similarities with the freemason initiation ceremony.
Mention the word Paganism to most people and it will probably conjure up images of ancient rituals conducted by people in hoods tramping round the mist-filled fields of pre-Roman Britain.
The reality is that Paganism is very much alive and well and Yorkshire has the longest running Pagan moot, or meeting, in the country.
In Leeds alone there are three active moots and another two in Wakefield, with others in Huddersfield and beyond.
Steve Jones, who founded the Wakefield Pagan Moot, which this month marked its 25th anniversary, making it the longest running in the country, said for many people Paganism offered an alternative to the mainstream religions.
Mr Jones, 56, who works as a clerk at the Courts & Tribunals Service in Leeds, was brought up a Roman Catholic.
He said: “The moot is an ancient tradition. It is essentially a meeting. In times gone by, it would be the time when all the people in the village came together to decide how they were going to divide up all the crops and what they were going to spend money on. That is why we have things like moot halls, or town halls today.
“Paganism is an umbrella term, so just like there are different denominations of Christianity, the same applies to Paganism.
“The West Yorkshire Pagan Meetup Group is 256-strong, which I believe makes it the largest Pagan group in the region and possibly the north of England.
“Wakefield Pagan moot is now the longest-running moot in the UK and the only one with the original organiser.
“It meets on the first Monday of the month at Henry Boons, Westgate, Wakefield, in the upstairs bar.
“It is actually the fifth pub we have met in and the third haunted one.”
He added: “Paganism is the fastest-growing religion in the UK. It is also the only religion Britain gave to the rest of the world. All our other religions are imported or if, like the Jehovah’s witnesses, they originated here then they are variants on existing ones.
“It is also a living religion in that it is evolving, it has no set text so can be interpreted in different ways.
“It is also not an evangelical religion in that I don’t knock on doors asking people if they worship the horned god or the goddess, we let people find us.”
John Billingsley, from Mytholmroyd, is the author of a magazine called Northern Earth and has studied so-called ‘earth mysteries’ for more than 30 years.
He admitted to being a ‘fringe Pagan’ but said it was not something he went looking for.
“For me it happened in the 1970s but it’s very much something I do on my own.
“It’s a way of life, really, there is no definition of Paganism because it’s so wide-ranging. The closest you could come to is that it is a world-wide human response to nature.
“It is certainly a world religion. I have travelled in Japan and it’s obvious that some of the things in the Shinto temples there are the same things which were being worshipped in pre-Roman Britain.
“The word Pagan comes from Paganus, meaning country dweller. The Romans had a deep distrust of people with these beliefs.
“I came to it because I realised in the 1970s that the things I was interested in seemed to fit very well with Paganism.
“The places I felt the deepest spiritual connection were woodlands and earth works and places like that, many of which come under the heading of ‘earth mysteries’.
“Paganism is essentially shorthand for a spiritual version of nature. It is a pre-Christian, nature-orientated belief system. It’s a gut feeling more than anything. It doesn’t need anymore distinction than that.
“Of course, within Paganism there are all kinds of different beliefs. The Celtic system has different gods to the Anglo-Saxon system and so on.
“Compared to organised religions, Paganism is very much about the individual and certainly from my point of view, any kind of belief system which puts a priest between you and the thing in which you believe, the spiritual realm, is kind of defeating the object.
“Yes, there are priests in Paganism but they don’t have anything to do with me. No-one else can interpret your own spirituality.
“Paganism is also based very much on one’s own experience, as opposed to faith.”
Paganism encompasses a diverse community, including wiccans, druids, shamans, sacred ecologists, Odinists and heathens, all of whom make up parts of the Pagan community.
Some groups concentrate on specific traditions or practices such as ecology, witchcraft, Celtic traditions or certain gods.
Most Pagans share an ecological vision that comes from the Pagan belief in the organic vitality and spirituality of the natural world.
According to the BBC Religion website Pagans have long been the subject of persecution and ridicule.
It says: “Due to persecution and misrepresentation it is necessary to define what Pagans are not as well as what they are.
“Pagans are not sexual deviants, do not worship the devil, are not evil, do not practice ‘black magic’ and their practices do not involve harming people or animals.”
The Pagan Federation of Great Britain have no precise figures but estimates that the number of Pagans in the British Isles is between 50,000 and 200,000, those being based on estimates done in 2002.
Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Paganism is that of wicca.
The tradition is often applied to the entire system of Pagan beliefs and practices and is often confused with witchcraft, which has been adapted by the media, particularly in America.
Traditions and history of ancient religion The PAGAN initiation ceremony has many similarities with the freemason initiation ceremony.
In both cases, the initiate is brought into the sacred place at the north east corner, symbolically representing the so-called ‘foundation stone’, the cental notion here being that the initiate has only just entered an ‘other’ world, one in which the language of myth and metaphor dominate.
Steve Jones, organiser of the Wakefield Pagan Moot, said: “There are many similarities with the rituals practised in freemasonry.
“Some of the festivals which we celebrate today and take for granted, like Easter and Christmas, have Pagan roots.
“Religions have borrowed things from each other for millennia, so this is nothing new.”
In Paganism, there are eight major festivals.
Imbolc (also called Candlemas) celebrates the awakening of the land and the growing power of the sun.
March 20, is the spring equinox (Eoster), which celebrates the renewed life of the earth that comes with the spring.
May 1 is Beltane, when Pagans celebrate with maypole dances, symbolising the mystery of the sacred marriage of goddesses and gods.
June 20 is the summer solstice (Litha), which is also the longest day of the year
August 1 sees the Lammas or harvest festival, which is of Celtic origin.
September 22 is the autumn equinox, when the day and night is of equal length.
October 31 is called Samhain (pronounced ‘sow’inn), which coincides with Halloween.
It marks the Feast of the Dead and is also the Celtic New Year.
December 21 sees the winter solstice, a celebration which was held in Roman times and which was later taken over by the Christian Church and is now called Christmas.
For Pagans it is called Yule and it is a time when the sun is reborn and when, both symbolically and literally, new life emerges from the depths of winter.