Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Magical Blades

Here's an interesting article about a Pagan convicted for carrying a knife that he used for religious purposes.

A PAGAN who had a knife at Temple Meads station failed to convince Bristol magistrates that using it for magic while living in the woods was a good enough reason to escape conviction.

Nomadic Alisdair McKee, 34, protested he should have been allowed to carry his "sacred" lock-knife, which had a four-inch blade, after he was stopped and searched by police on April 1.

. . .

Having previously admitted possessing cannabis resin, amphetamine and ketamine on the same day, he was given a community order with 140 hours of unpaid work.

Transport police stopped and searched him and found the knife, which had a brown wooden handle and four- inch blade, in his bag.

The law states someone possessing a fixed or locking knife, with a blade of more than three inches, must be able to prove, on the balance of probability, that they had a "good reason" to have it in a public place.

In interview, McKee said he used the knife do magic and for life in the woods, where he had been living in Carmarthen at the time of the offence.

. . .

"It's a special knife, it's a sacred knife," he said. "I use it in my day-to-day life in the woods."

McKee described it as a "magic tool".

The trained carpenter added: "I would never use a weapon. I want to stress that I'm not a violent person, I'm a pacifist."

Taking to the stand yesterday, McKee said he had been a pagan since he was 18 and had lived off the land in woods for the last few years.

He was given the knife, believed to be French from the early 1900s, by his last girlfriend, with whom he had recently split.

He said he did not want to leave it in the woods because he did not want to lose it.

"I had my precious possessions with me," he said. "It's come from a very special place to me and I use it to do earth magic."

. . .

Giving the guilty verdict, chair of the bench David Hynam said: "We accept your reason but we do not find this reason sufficient to found a defence."

As well as the one-year community order, McKee was ordered to pay £250 in costs.

One supposes, based upon his picture, that his looks had a lot to do with his being stopped and that, after finding the drugs, the knife charge was thrown in for make-weight. There's apparently not much question that Mr. McKee is a Pagan and did use the knife for ritual purposes. So should he have been arrested for carrying it?

Many Sikhs carry a kirpan, a ritual blade. Wiki says that:

According to a mandatory religious commandment given by Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Guru of Sikhism) at the Baisakhi Amrit Sanchar (a holy religious ceremony that formally baptizes a Sikh) in AD 1699, all baptised Sikhs (Khalsa) must wear a kirpan at all times.

Wiki also explains that, in the UK:

As a bladed article, possession of a large enough kirpan in a public place would be illegal under section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. However, there is a specific defence for a person to prove that he had it with him for "religious reasons". There is an identical defence to the similar offence (section 139A) which relates to school grounds.

It's not clear from the article that section 139 was the relevant statute or that the defense was specifically pled. But certainly an analogy could be made.

Have you ever travelled with your athame? Ever gotten any grief over it? Who's right here: Mr. McKee or the state? Is it the formalized nature of the religion that makes the difference? Are Sikhs, who can point to commandments from the 10th Guru of Sikhism, entitled to carry blades while Pagans, who can't point to any such commandment, aren't?

Points off to the author of the article for failing to capitalize "Pagan" and for putting quotation marks around terms such as "sacred." The court found that it was a sacred blade, but that this did not provide a good reason to allow Mr. McKee to carry it. Would the author put quotation marks around a description of xian relics as "sacred"?

Picture by the author. If you copy, please link back.


Anonymous said...

Of course the discrimination here is blatant, but I believe the fact that Mr. McKee is vagrant, homeless, and probably quite ill-groomed to be the foundation for the discrimination as much as the lack of recognition of his faith. If we're going to be angry, let's be angry about the fact that the homeless are routinely denied their rights just as frequently as pagans.

Hecate said...


Good points! I believe that I'll multi-task and be concerned about both points.