Police Sergeant Andy Pardy is not your average British policeman. His philosophical touchstone is not the Daily Mail or The Sweeney. It's the Norse god Heimdall, guardian of the gates of Asgard.
Andy is a Pagan. More specifically, he's a Heathen. Not "heathen" as in the snobbish insult. Heathen with a capital H; a follower of the ancient northern European religion based on the worship of Norse gods and goddesses. When he's not patrolling the streets of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, Andy runs the Police Pagan Association, a body set up amid much predictable media piss-taking in 2009 to support the needs of Britain's pagan coppers.
The PPA has 200 members, 80 of which have not "come out" to their bosses for fear of discrimination. On its website, the PPA says it "understands and promotes our co-dependency with the Earth and therefore promotes the tenets of community and the pursuit of peace and prosperity". Which is not something you see in Scotland Yard press statements very often.
With the Autumn Equinox – an important day of bonfires, feasting and dancing in the Pagan calendar looming next week – I had a chat with Andy about what it's like being a Pagan police officer.
VICE: I would never have put being a Pagan and being a police officer together. How did this all come about?
PS Andy Pardy: I found Paganism while rebelling as a teenager; my mother was a strict Jehovah's Witness, who, when I declared that I did not share her beliefs, threw me out at 14 years of age. I turned to other religions as a form of rebellion and I developed a genuine interest in Paganism. The Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry mirrored almost to the word the tenets to which I had already attempted to live up to, and to which I refer in my job. I firmly believe that I would not be a police officer today if I had not found the Pagan path.
What is a modern Pagan?
Pagans believe all of life is sacred and there's a vital energy in every living thing. Instead of worshipping a deity, we see the earth as a living vital thing. We see our place in the cycle of life as divine, rather than a single creator. It's what people believed before the concept of God was introduced, recognition that the seasons have a direct impact on people's lives and their wellbeing. The 2014 census found there are just under 80,000 Pagans in the UK. But I suspect there are twice as many, as Pagans keep their religion a secret because of the stigma.
What does being a Heathen involve?
Heathenism is one of the four main paths of Paganism [the others are Wicca, Shamanism and Druidry]. Heathenism was brought over from northern Europe during Anglo-Saxon times. It's the only branch of Paganism which doesn't originate from the UK, and the only one with accurate records of its beliefs and traditions, such as the eddas, which are Norse poems.
As a Heathen I acknowledge the Norse gods and goddesses are relevant to my culture. I recognise that certain deities are relevant to differing aspects of my existence, such as the God Heimdall – often seen as an educated figure and an able communicator, to whom I often address my thoughts prior to public speaking, for example. I don't believe that a horned Norse God physically exists on a higher realm, rather that he is a manifestation towards whom I can direct my thoughts in times of need.
How does Paganism impact on your job?
Almost by default the PPA has become an occult investigation team. We were called to a prominent cathedral in London [St Paul's] last year. They contacted the PPA because the groundskeeper had come into work one morning and found an occult set up – a ram's skull on top of a photo of a woman's breasts, surrounded by 12 candles and an anti-church message – on the steps on the way into the cathedral. We were able to confirm straight away that it was not Pagan but a ritual likely to be the work of an individual with occult tendencies.
We often get involved when horses get maimed, because people suspect it's the act of Pagans carrying out a ritual. It's true, in the historical past, horse sacrifices used to happen, but I have to explain that nowadays Pagans don't believe in killing any living things – we've moved on. There was a sad case recently we were brought in to advise on where two men claimed to be Pagan priests and sexually abused vulnerable female members of the Pagan community. We've also been contacted in cases of African witchcraft and a cold case murder investigation with possible occult or Pagan links from the 1990s.
Earlier this year a young lad was searched by police and they found an athame [a Pagan knife] on him. He was bailed and the force contacted us for advice. We found out he was a practicing Pagan and had just come from a handfasting [marriage]. These knives are part of the religious uniform, a bit like Sikh knives, so he was released without charge.
How can I spot a Pagan?
It's not that easy. Depending on their path, most Pagans would wear a pentacle – a five pointed star – on a chain around their neck. Heathens often wear a mjolnir, a Thor's hammer symbol. I have a valknut, three intertwining triangles, which is another Heathen symbol.
What was your last ritual?
We had a day marking the end of summer, a recognition we are coming into harsher times. This time of year is seen as part of a cycle, with the sun that gives earth energy passing away. It's quite a solemn time, a time for remembering your past relatives. We have vegetable stew, light candles for dead relatives and drink a glass of mead or two. Morrisons sell their own brand, although it's a rather commercial form of mead. We brew our own. I highly recommend it.
Depends on how long you leave it to brew and how much sugar or honey you put in it. It can be quite potent, believe me.
Do you have a family and are they also Pagans?
My wife discovered Paganism by her own means, but we have always stated that we wanted to educate our children about all faiths, so that if and when they choose a path it is an educated choice. At this time, however, they have always celebrated the Pagan holidays with us and consider themselves Pagan; if they change religion for whatever reason, or do not choose to follow a faith, we will support them regardless. Most Pagan households have the hearth as the spiritual centre. We have candles, a written work from one of Norse poems.
Why did you set up the Police Pagan Association?
I found out Paganism wasn't recognised as an official religion in the police when I tried to take off Yule as a religious holiday. Also, there were some inaccurate guidelines about Paganism being handed out by one police force, saying things like: "If you enter a household and you find a naked woman tied to the table it could be part of a Pagan ritual." I knew Pagan officers from that force who did not like that, and they complained but were suppressed by a senior officer who was anti-Pagan. So we came up with a national association, able to circumnavigate local level and answerable to the Home Office.
In 2009, when you set up the Police Pagan Association you got teased in the tabloid press as "the one with the horns on his helmet, seconded to the raping and pillaging squad". Other members were accused of casting spells. What did you make of that?
The papers had to apologise for that, although I must admit I have one of the cartoons in my hallway. They raided my Facebook page and found an old fancy dress picture of me in a ninja outfit, which they showed on Have I Got News For You.
Do you get any grief from police colleagues, any anti-Pagan slurs?
Some police officers think we shouldn't exist and some officers have felt they have been passed over for promotion or not allowed opportunities because they are openly Pagan. Unfortunately, there are certain groups within Heathenry that misuse Paganism for white supremacist agendas and Aryan race ideals. A lot of the Norse symbols were appropriated by the Nazi party. You will get white supremacist groups who are pretending to be Heathens. So I've been called racist and a white supremacist quite a lot. We get called sexual deviants a lot. People think being a Pagan is all sex and nakedness. I keep saying to them if that's what it was there would be a lot more Pagans around.
Do Pagan police do naked rituals?
Sure, there are police officers who do worship naked, but not on all the eight religious days of the Pagan calendar, and only when it's suitable. It won't be in public view, usually in private estates, land where they have a right to be, or in their own gardens. By the way, I don't do it. Heathens do not believe in magic or nudity as a way of worship. It's mainly Wiccans.
Talking of Wiccans, what do you think of The Wicker Man?
The film was a great deal of help for the PPA when we were trying to get endorsed by the Home Office. We had to provide evidence that Pagans are misrepresented in popular culture, and The Wicker Man was by far the best example. It glorified historic acts of Paganism and represented them as contemporary culture. This is what the public think Paganism is: more of a cult than a faith, with sacrifice being a central aspect. You couldn't get a more inaccurate film, really.
Thanks Andy, and enjoy the Autumn Equinox.
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