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Blog - Cambridge May Ball accused by pagan student of belittling her religion

It seemed like a fitting way to end the semester and celebrate the coming summer holidays.

But now organisers of the ‘Solstice’ festival at Trinity Hall, Cambridge find themselves accused of “bastardising” the beliefs of a sect of modern day druids, who claim the soirée amounts to sacrilege.

According to student Georgia Humphrey, a practising Wiccan, the decision to host this year’s May Ball on the eve of the solstice is “offensive” and “gross” because it coincides with a pagan festival.
Ms Humphrey, an LGBT women’s officer at Christ’s College, has also taken exception to the organisers using images of Stonehenge in promotion material, because it is a place of religious significance.

Writing on social media, the 22-year-old said: “I’m wiccan, which is a branch of paganism. We, along with most other branches of paganism (druids, satanists, hedge witches etc) celebrate the solstices every year and are usually the ones hanging out at [sic] stone henge every year in crazy robes and stuff.

“I think it’s pretty grim to use any religion’s festivals as an excuse for a bunch of students to get drunk.”

Commonly known as Midsummer, the summer solstice has been celebrated by pagans for thousands of years, with modern day worshippers gathering annually at Stonehenge to watch the sun rise.

It also coincides with the Christian feast day of St John the Baptist, which takes place on 24 June.

Ms Humphrey’s religion, Wicca, is a modern day religious movement drawing on ancient druidry and ritual practices, commonly referred to as pagan witchcraft.

It emerged during the early 1900s and began to develop a cult following in England through the teachings of Gerald Gardner, an amateur anthropologist and author.

There are thought to be as many as 11,000 practising Wiccans in England and Wales, according to census data.

Wicca | Modern day witchcraft

Founded on ancient pagan and hermetic beliefs, Wicca is an occult which began to attract a growing number of followers during the 1950s.

The basic tenets of the religion were laid down in books on modern day witchcraft published by English writers Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente.

Worshippers pray to the Moon Goddess and the Horned God, and their major celebrations, known as Sabbats, revolve around the lunar and solar cycles.

They also believe in sorcery, and during ritual practices cast spells or “workings” used for healing, fertility or to banish bad spirits.

Most Wiccans believe in the afterlife, in particular the belief that they can be reincarnated as either humans or other life forms.

Ms Humphrey was unavailable for comment when approached by The Telegraph. However, in an interview with the student newspaper Varsity, she added that she objected to the organisers using her beliefs “for the entertainment of others”.

“I was generally annoyed at the theme. If I got upset about every instance of someone misrepresenting pagan religions or mocking me for my beliefs I’d never get anything done.

“It does irritate me though that I am subject to this kind of grief over my beliefs pretty much whenever someone discovers this aspect of my life, and then I discover something like this – an event that is using a holiday I celebrate seriously and with religious conviction as merely the theme for a party.”

“I hope that it makes them think a little about what decorations and events they have at their June Event, and consider the theme they are working with in careful way.”

A spokesman for the event organisers said: “We recognise the importance of the summer and winter solstice to the Wiccan community. Our theme is intended to highlight and celebrate the beauty of an astronomical marvel. Our predecessors across the world were awed by the beauty of the solstice and, like so many before and since, we share in their wonder and celebration.

“It has never been our intention to appropriate any aspect of Wiccan practice. We wish only to acknowledge and celebrate the beauty of the natural world. We invite people of all beliefs to experience the wonder of the summer solstice with us.”

The annual party, which is one of the most popular fixtures in the Cambridge social calendar, has previously taken on similarly outlandish themes, including the Brothers Grimm, Mardi Gras and Marmalade Skies.

Trinity Hall is one of just nine colleges to hold an annual May Ball, with the majority hosting events once every two years.

This year’s event, which costs £85-120 per head, invites attendees to “dance through the shortest night into the longest day”.