The first time I saw Esme she was sat stride her mobility scooter, mega phone in hand, rousing the crowds with "We are Pagan, We are proud!" Her beautiful green dress, her crown, flowers in her hair, she looked the epitome of a fairy queen or a woodland goddess. She rallied the troops and off we went...
Photo by John Jowett
The next time I saw her she was on stage, welcoming everyone to the Festival with enthusiasm and then lead us all in a beautiful blessing...
Pagan Pride UK 2017 - photo by John Jowett
When I first saw the message on the Pagan Pride UK Facebook group that there were some slots for interviews I jumped at the chance! I knew little about the organisation or even much about Pagan Pride at that point, as I had moved away from Nottingham the year before the first event. But having lead my own marches, helped organise Nottingham Pride years previously, I knew how much work the volunteers and committees do to create such a wonderful event and was excited to put my own questions to Esme.
Meeting Esme in person the first thing you notice, aside from the amazing outfit, is her infectious smile. Her thick accent and brazen humour punctate throughout any conversation but really it is her passion and dedication that humbles you.
Below is a write up of our interview, you can also listen to the interview itself on Youtube (Coming soon)
Interview with Esme
First Time Attendees Advice
Jen: So this is the first time I've been to Pagan Pride and I'm loving it, I think it's wonderful. For people who are first time attendees, what sort of advice would you have for them?
Esme: If it's your first time coming to Pagan Pride I'd say wear sensible footwear.
Jen: There is a lot of walking!
Esme: There's so much going on and the park is actually such a large space and you will walk up and down it. One of our team members walked 27 miles last year. She was working, doing the stalls up and down - that's a marathon!
If it's your first time coming, I'd say, come with an open mind. Come to learn. Don't be afraid to make friends and talk to people. This is a safe space for you... Everybody will speak to everybody. I don't whether you've experienced any of that today?
Jen: Yeah definitely, everyone's really, really friendly and it's quite nice with the Pagan Federation being here, getting information about sort of all the different ways that people celebrate nature essentially. That's certainly something I've learnt and I always like a leaflet.
Photo by Sandra Franklin
Esme: We do like a good handout. If there's something the Pagan Community can do, we can do a good handout.
It's very important for us to have this area here, the community area, where we invite the national Pagan Organisations to come and bring their stalls and to kind of have the [information]... that's really the only 'Pagany' bit. That's what we do, we're Pagan Pride so we do want to be able to offer information and education about what the pagan community is, who we are, what we do that we're not scary. That we are just ordinary people living our everyday lives and we like to celebrate and that's where the rest of the festival comes in.
We have shopping and stalls, lots of wonderful wares, everyone loves to shop! And of course all the entertainment venues going on. We've got serious ones where we've got talks and workshops, lectures and things like that. More kind of a serious topics, a little more academic if you like. And then we have the other entertainment venues like the arts tent, dance arena, where you've got music and dance and storytelling and all of the things that are associated with or... things that Pagan's enjoy. Everybody enjoys music, everybody enjoys shopping, everyone enjoys a bit of entertainment and its people within the Pagan community performing their things and also things of interest to the Pagan community. It's a bit like 50/50 really.
Pagan Pride Parade UK 2017 - photo by John Jowett
The Pagan Pride Parade
Jen: In terms of the parade, why do you think that's still so important. Usually we associate Pride parades with injustices as well as celebration. Do you think that's still relevant?
Esme: Yes it;s very relevant, it's so relevant because...I think you've hit the nail on the head there, people do associate [Pride parades] with injustice... we always ensure we say a parade and not a march because we're not protesting, we're celebrating. But what we are celebrating is our individuality and the fact that we are here. And when you say about injustice, the fact that people don't instantly see that there is an injustice is all the more reason to fight for it. Because there are a lot of people who are not 'out' of the broom closet. They are afraid to tell their friends, family, their colleges and their kids school. They are afraid to say they are a Pagan, they are afraid to ask for time off of work to attend Sabat rituals, which often happen at camps at weekends. They're afraid and keep that part hidden and that's not right. It's not that they're keeping it private for the sake of "This is private, this is just mine." That's very different. If you're not saying something because you fear retribution or discrimination that's not right.
I've just done a talk about an hour ago and I asked the people at the talk, which of them, at any time had experienced any form of discrimination, hate speech or derogatory language towards them regarding their paganism and about a third of them put their hands up. And I said, thank you for sharing that but wonder out of how many people you would ask, how many people have and haven't wanted to put their hand up? When you think about the scale of the community, how many more people have, through the course of their life, have experienced that kind of discrimination or just the misinformation about what a Pagan is, "Oh you're a devil worshiper" that's the thing that comes up "Oh do you dance naked around trees" and it seems to be this polarity - You're either a baby-eating devil worshiper OR you've a tree hugging Harry Potter fantasist - and there's no in-between. You're either demonised or you're mocked. And actually the pagan community is very valid and we're neither of those. We are regular people who go to work, go to the shops, use social media, go to the pub, take our kids to school. These things that everybody does, everyday. Their spirituality is only one facet of them.
If you were to replace the world 'Witch' with, for example, the word 'Muslim' in any of these derogatory terms, there would be uproar. The police do take it very seriously with any kind of religious slur or hate speech. It is time for us to be validated in that way and supported.
Photo by Sandra Franklin
Jen: I think that makes perfect sense. My last question is about accessibility because this is a very accessible festival. There are a lot of families here, there are paths that are clear so that people on mobility scooters.
Esme: Myself included.
Jen: Yourself included, I also I noticed that the Deaf Pagan Community were here as well. So I just wondered if you could speak a bit about the accessibility of the event.
Esme: Actually it's one of the things that we are very proud of, is the accessibility of the event and the inclusivity. [Accessibility is] one of the things, one of the paramount things, it's up there with keeping the event free. There are plenty of Pagan events, all year round, up and down the country but what we like to think keeps us unique that Pagan Pride is free and by it's very ethos will always remain free because we don't want people to be restricted by their income. Because that again is accessibility. If you've got to travel to London, to go to a conference venue, to buy a ticket to do all of these things it becomes prohibitive. That in itself is an issue of accessibility.
So yes, there are the rather obvious ones, we make space for disabled visitors or visitors with reduced mobility. Whether there are using walking aids or using some form of chair or scooter. For example we have, over the years, put Market Street, over here by the road and utilised that space. There's also the paths that are around the park. We make sure that the venues are accessible, you can hop on the path, go down the other end and not have to go over the grass all the way. We make sure we have disabled toilet facilities to make sure there's extra room for people who need a little bit more space when they're using the facilities.
We make sure that we are family friendly and we are interfaith. We encourage members of other faith groups to come and celebrate with us and to break down those barriers of 'us and them' and for them to see we are everyday people, families, couples, couples of all genders. We are very very LGBTQ friendly as well. We really just want people to be their unique selves and not have to hide or make an excuse or feel excluded in anyway.
Last year was the first year we included a quiet space because we realised that some individuals who perhaps have mental health issues or perhaps are on the autism scale may find the festival overwhelming at times. It can be very loud and noisy and very crowded. So we're created some space, a gazebo off to one side, with some small activities, colouring pencils, soft tactile things to play with. So if someone is stressing out they can go there.
We also encourage nursing and breastfeeding mothers, obviously if they want privacy we somewhere they can feel private but we have no problem with them sitting down on the grass and nursing their child because we're Pagan and that is the most natural thing in the world.
Jen: And it's an udder!
Esme: Yes, it's an udder. Here's one and here's the udder!
We try and think of all [accessibility needs] and every year there's always something new coming round. Yes, actually, we didn't think of that last time, let's think about it this time.
After the festival we always put a feedback form on the website and we invite anybody [to leave feedback] good or bad. Though people only ever leave bad feedback because if they've had a good time they don't think about it. If they have had any problems, hopefully we can do our best to try an accommodate them.
Jen: Well thank you so much for talking to me.
Esme: You're very welcome.
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