(From Sounds, UK music magazine, 22/29 December 1990)

The Sounds Guide To Paganism

Pagans in rock - who are they?

In the 'new age' of the '90s, people are once again pouncing on the mysteries of paganism with zeal. Sounds looks into the background of pagan religion, talks to JOOLZ, JUSTIN SULLIVAN, GENESIS PORRIDGE, PERRY FARRELL and JAZ COLEMAN about their involvement with paganism - and points out a few dodgy cults to be avoided at all costs!


Rock musicians have often been inspired to try and answer the age-old question - Who are we, and who the hell put us here? Yet, apart from Prince and Cliff Richard, there have been few of note who have found their answer in Christianity.

But Paganism, the oldest of religions, is finding a new lease of life through the medium of rock music. In our concrete cities and increasingly self-centred civilisation, many contemporary artists have chosen to champion, or at least delve into, various forms of that which is outside the accepted form of religion.

So what is the relevance of Paganism to today's society?

We asked some distinctly un-Christian folk for their views.

"In Britain, we are not by heritage a Christian society. That's been imposed on us by invaders and by politicians," claims Psychic TV mainman Genesis P Orridge.

"The original belief system of this land was what we call Pagan, which was to do with the natural seasons. What we've had imposed on us is a Middle Eastern belief system. That's what The Bible is.

"That's why Paganism is relevant to this society in terms of heritage. As to why it's relevant now, I think it's to do with the reawakening of people to the loss of their relationship with the extended family and the land.

"People are beginning to realise that when you start to compartmentalise all the aspects of being alive and dying, and interpret that in a very mechanised way, basically it's schizophrenic. It's not counting emotions, it's not counting sexuality or instinct."

Poet Joolz and New Model Army frontman Justin Sullivan reckon that the attraction of Paganism is that "it's based on what we all know instinctively to be true. It unifies all experience and senses without trying to pigeonhole them".

What are the differences when you compare Paganism to Christianity and New Age-ism?

"Christianity, because it deals in abstractions, is essentially about the power of one person over another - this is the inescapable result of its rigid and unworkable 'moral' structure. 'New Age' appears to be the latest fashionable buzzword, covering everything from Rifat Ozbek white tracksuits to dippy hippies flitting about on higher esoteric planes ... ie, it means nothing."

Joolz adds: "The whole thing about being a Christian or a Muslim is that when you die you go away from the earth, up to Heaven and polish God's brass feet! So there's no sense of connection with the earth at all."

And on the Christian view of women...

"Why should half the world be told what to do by some bloke and his representatives on earth? I won't have it. Why can half the world say to the other half, You are all vessels of evil, it is my right to tell you that you can't have an abortion, you can earn less money than me for doing the same job?"

Jeremy of The Levellers agrees.

"Paganism is better than consumer-based religions. As far as the churches are concerned, it's a good thing to be poor; while they're the richest, most corrupt regime in the world. Who is the Pope to preach the honour in poverty, when he's wearing gold?"

Genesis sees today's musician as the equivalent of the ancient tribal storyteller, keeping alive their history through song.

"The singer today is still that person - although now we are not around campfires, we are in cities. But the need to make sense of it is still there. It is the job to tell the story of your own people, and mine are on the Pagan end of things."

Have there been repercussions for expressing Pagan beliefs through music?

Justin: "The odd punch-up with the Jesus Army. And you become a magnet to crystal-bearing idiots in California."

Joolz: "Ditto the Jesus Army. Also the occasional local radio DJ asking if I'm a witch. I don't turn them into frogs because the last thing frogs need is a local radio DJ."

Genesis: "Even in the last two months, we've taken it as a matter of course that our mail is being opened. We also heard from friends in the North of England about children being taken away from their parents at six in the morning because the neighbours reported them for doing tarot readings. That was the only reason."

The media have taken a low view of Pagan beliefs, often mistakenly equating them with Satanism. How far does the distortion go?

"The media are always after an angle - usually a salacious one," says Jeremy. "Anyone with a different lifestyle is persecuted. Like the people on the convoy. Everybody's forgotten about the pregnant woman who got pulled through a windscreen at Stonehenge and lost the baby. And how the police trashed people's entire possessions. They just remember the fights."

Justin and Joolz are similarly scathing: "The Western media cares for nothing except money and scandal and therefore are very happy to print shock horror 'Satanist' stories without believing a word that they write."

So why is Paganism seen as a threat to those in power? Genesis again: "Because it challenges the entire economic, political and moral imposition we have had placed on us.

"It dismisses the need for government because it reverts to the tribal unit."

But is there a danger in practising various forms of Paganism?

Both Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell and Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman are quick to warn of the perils of dabbling.

"I went through a period of real devoutness," says Perry. "I would make a point of staying up between the hours of 3am and 7am, because that is the time the vibrations from other people are lowest. It's the time you can start getting in tune with the trees. That's their time of day. You can listen and think, Wow! these guys are really conversing or something. They kind of kick back when the day comes.

"I got out of it because it took so much regimentation, and I felt that even if I went on learning about it for the rest of my life, and I became adept, chances are I would never become adept enough to deal with magic and how heavy it is.

"Trying to harness that power would be like trying to straddle a hurricane and ride it. These things are so much more powerful than you are as a mere mortal. I just decided I'd be better off not trying to deal with outside elements, they'll come my way soon enough. And probably when I die is the time I'll be ready to deal with it.

"It's a slower process, but if you ever go to a witches' store, you get to thinking that if they've really got all that power, why aren't they super-rich or happy? They always seem to be in a bad mood!

"The best way to live is to walk right where your heart is."

Jaz Coleman's occult interest has been widely documented. But he no longer practises as he did.

"In terms of deities, yes, I used to invoke all sorts of forces into my life which created havoc. Nowadays I invoke the human spirit, the life force, the healing force. I am just trying to find peace within myself.

"You have to be very careful what you bring in through you. There are other outside forces that can wreck your life. For myself, I know that you never ever take intoxicants and practise magic. It's a mistake.

"When you take intoxicants there are holes in your protective aura, which is where outside influences can get in and attach themselves to you. That's not a concept - that's my experience. I suffered terrible possession."

So how do our Pagan friends intend to celebrate Christmas?

Genesis: "Paula and I and the two children, Caress and Geness, will have a Christmas tree, which is symbolic of the phallus, but is also a symbol of life and renewal and connection with the earth.

"We won't eat meat, but we will feast, and we will give gifts to each other, because that is a very ancient line of bonding and respect."

Justin and Joolz: "The whole point is that Christmas was stolen by the Christians from the old Pagan Yule festival, in which everyone ate up what provisions wouldn't last to spring, probably drunk a bit and spent time with their family and friends round a warm fire as a comfort in the dark, cold night.

"This is the modern ideal of Christmas - and it rather proves that basically people are Pagan by nature.

"We wish everyone a happy Yule."