The Pagan Oath

All right then, dear readers, here’s a talking point for you.

As you may or may not know, our illustrious legal system here in the UK has got around to recognising that not everyone appearing in court is a) Christian or b) atheist. As a result, the Powers That Be have allowed those of us of a pagan bent (ahem) to swear By All That We Hold Sacred, rather than having to swear By Almighty God, or simply Solemnly, Sincerely and Truly Declaring and Affirming, according to the previously available choices.

I must admit, I’ve always wondered what would be so wrong about starting with “I, open square bracket, personal name, close square bracket, do solemnly swear by, open square bracket, insert deity/ ancestor/ spirit of choice, close square bracket, to …” and go from there.

Having recently been summonsed for jury service at the Coroner’s court, I thought I was going to get the chance to try out ‘the pagan oath’ for myself. When I asked her if I could use it, the nice lady making the jury arrangements did have to go and find out what I was talking about, but that done, she seemed keen to ensure it was all done right. She asked me – without being prompted (at least by me) – whether I’d be requiring any alternative holy text, and whether I’d have any ritual or dietary requirements for the time I was serving on the jury. Then she told me she’d have a copy of the oath printed off for me.

I was able to take my own holy text into court, to serve the function of the New Testament copies provided to the others. For lack of a specific holy book for my particular path, I took A Book of Pagan Prayer by Ceisiwr Serith, which at least includes references to the relevant gods, and has plenty of, shall we say, customisable content.

As it turned out, though, I didn’t get as far as actually being sworn in. Because of the line of work I’m in, the barristers decided they’d prefer to excuse me, if that was okay with the Coroner. It was, and I was let go, albeit very nicely and respectfully, and with appropriately minimalistic smiles all round.

So I never got to try out the oath, and I must say I was a little disappointed not to be able to see it through – particularly since I’m unlikely ever to be called again.  Still, I was pleased with how well the whole thing worked, and how accommodating the system seems to be, at least for ‘jurors-in-waiting’. I’ll let you know how I get on if I’m ever actually in the dock.

But this leads me on to two questions I thought I’d throw out to y’all, if you’re happy to answer them:

  1. If you were called upon to appear in court and had to be sworn in, what text would you take with you to swear on, and why?
  2. And although I’ve identified myself as pagan for a good number of years now, there aren’t that many occasions where the world of officialdom gets involved in my religious beliefs. So I wonder to what extent do readers like to represent their belief system in the realm of governments and laws and rules and documents and suchlike?
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2 thoughts on “The Pagan Oath

  1. Question 1: Really difficult one to answer for me. The whole concept of swearing on a ‘holy book’ shines through from the more dogmatic faiths which do have a prescriptive set of rules to follow in listed in a handy manual. The Mabinogion? The Eddas? Crowley’s Book of Thoth? Your own personal Book of Shadows? If I had to go for one, it would be the Mabinogion.

    Question 2: I always tick the ‘other’ box on government / official forms and write ‘pagan’ (they probably wouldn’t have a category for anything more specific than that). But private sector employment is a different matter – prejudice does go on, and ‘redundancies’ are made so I don’t want to give them an excuse. In these situations I select the ‘decline to answer’ box. Call me a coward but the mortgage has to be paid and there are still anti-pagan zealots out there in high places!

    As an aside, I get to sit in Derby Magistrates’ court regularly (not as a defendant, honest!) and it has often struck me that I’ve never yet heard anyone take a pagan oath. Statistically, there has to have been a few. I wonder if some people feel intimated and just go for the ‘safe’ option of the Affirmation or take the first one they are offered by the usher? Do people think “I won’t admit to being pagan, they might be prejudiced against me”, I wonder?

  2. As a serving police officer I have sworn on the Pagan Oath many times, on each occasion I have done it without an accompanying ‘Holy Book’ – just reading from the appropriate Aide Memoire (or from memory if one is not immediately available). However, as the Chair of the Police Pagan Association I have dealt with several instances in which Pagans have not been able to access or have been refused access to the Pagan Oath.
    Although the Court are obliged to have a copy and allow access to every oath, there are many courts who have never used it before or have not updated their aide memoires – it is always prudent to call ahead to confirm access to it, or notify an usher as soon as you arrive at court.
    It is also worth remembering that a Judge, on VERY seprcific occasions, can refuse access to an Oath and insist that you affirm instead; but there are very strict reasons for doing so, that are unlikely to arise.
    I have to say that I have had no problems with the Pagan Oath, and have even had a Crown Court Judge chastise a defence for questioning my use of it, as the Oath itself does not form the basis of any evidence in relation to the case at hand, and may not form part of their interrogation.
    We have some info on the Pagan Oath on our website: http://policepaganassociation.moonfruit.com/#/the-pagan-oath/4571164996

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